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EU and WTO

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is made of governments and customs territories that set, apply and enforce the global rules for trade between themselves.

Both the European Union (EU) and the individual EU countries are members of the WTO.

The WTO's main activities are:

The EU's objectives

The EU's objectives at the WTO are to:

  • keep the world’s trading system fair, predictable and based on common rules
  • modernise the world's trade markets so European goods, services and investment can benefit
  • follow the common WTO rules, and make sure others also play by the rules
  • make the WTO more open by interacting with both non-members and other international organisations
  • bring developing countries into the WTO, its decision-making, and the global economy
  • reinforce the WTO's support for sustainable trade policies worldwide

The European Commission has also put forward a first set of ideas to modernise the WTO and to make world trade rules fit for the challenges of the global economy.

Without prejudice to the EU's final position, these ideas relate to three key areas:

  • updating the rule book on international trade to capture today's global economy
  • strengthening the monitoring role of the WTO
  • overcoming deadlock on the WTO dispute settlement system

EU concept paper on WTO reform

The EU in WTO institutions

The WTO's highest decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference. The EU Trade Commissioner represents the EU in this forum.

The European Commission also represents the EU in

Permission and responsibility

The Commission gets permission from the Council of the EU to negotiate on behalf of the European Union.

The Commission coordinates the EU negotiating position with the EU Member States by consulting with the Council's trade policy committee.

The Commission regularly informs the European Parliament's International Trade Committee (INTA) of WTO issues.

When an agreement is negotiated at the WTO, the Commission needs the formal authorisation of the Council and European Parliament to then sign the agreement on behalf of the EU.

The Commission initiates and handles WTO complaints with the Council support and may propose retaliatory measures to the Council.

The Commission also regularly talks with other interested groups (civil society) on developments related to its WTO policy.