The removal cross-border barriers to trade, that is, lowering or removal of tariffs, has traditionally been considered to be one of the functions of trade policy. It is still a valid function, but increasing attention has to be paid on the global nature of business and entrepreneurial activities.
Now that cross-border barriers have been lowered or entirely abolished, other barriers to trade have to be focused on, such as technical regulations and standards, intellectual property rights, use of subsidies, competition and trade procedures. One of the key goals of our trade policy is to create a situation where Finnish companies have similar preconditions and enjoy equal opportunities as regards competition in the global markets.
However, trade policy is also linked with other global issues of central importance. Development, core labour standards and the environment have been mentioned as examples of such broad issues. Trade liberalisation and establishment of regulations have favourable effects. The positive impacts are very often linked with the effectiveness of members' own internal policy setting - such as the creation and maintenance of an enabling, transparent and predictable operational environment for business activities. Global trade also involves major challenges, which are related to, for example, health and food safety. None of the present policy sectors can be managed entirely separately from the rest of the environment.
Trade policy supports the establishment of a friendly environment for business activities in different parts of the world. The World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva hosts negotiations as a result of which agreement is made on common rules and on how to bring the contractual system compatible with today's requirements. Whenever necessary, problematic situations can also be dealt with within the WTO with a view to restoring a balance between the members' rights and obligations.
Finland has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since its foundation in 1995. The Agreement establishing the WTO and its Annexes were signed in 1994 after seven years of negotiations known as the Uruguay Round.
The GATT Agreement was renewed and the Contracting Parties of GATT became members of the new organization, the WTO. The contractual base was also expanded. At present, the WTO is an organization of 153 members.
The WTO is the only worldwide organization with an authority to create binding agreements that set a regulatory basis for international trade. It also supervises compliance with these agreements. The WTO's objective is to remove barriers to trade and all kinds of trade-related discrimination. Decisions are adopted by consensus among the members. To become effective, agreements made in the
WTO must be approved and ratified by the national parliaments. The agreements determine the Contracting Parties' rights and responsibilities and the procedures that apply to dispute settlement as well as the derogations and facilities that may be granted to members at their own request. Members also follow other members' national trade policies by means of periodic trade policy reviews (TPRs).
Top-level decisions in the WTO are made in the Ministerial Conference, which meets every two years. In the meantime, decisions are made by the General Council, which is a body of permanent representatives from all members, based in the WTO headquarters in Geneva. A number of councils and specialized and subsidiary committees operate under the administration of the General Council.
The WTO offers trade-related technical assistance and training to developing countries to enable them to more effectively make use of the multilateral trade system. The WTO works in cooperation with other international organizations especially in issues related to trade and development and the environment.
Based on a decision made in the Fourth Ministerial Conference, talks on a broad agenda of further trade liberalization measures were started in autumn 2001, called the Doha Development Agenda. Progress has been slow and the round of talks is still under way. The range of agenda items has been expanded to cover new issues and, in several areas under discussion, the objective is to elaborate and revise the present WTO Agreements.
Finland works in the WTO as a Member State of the European Union. In the WTO meetings, the EC Commission, which has jurisdiction and the right of initiative in trade policy matters, speaks on behalf of the 27 Member States of the EU. In the WTO, the EU is one of the organization's active and most influential members.
The EU's trade political objectives are submitted for discussion in the WTO only after the Member States of the EU have reached a common position on the issue at hand. Finland endeavours to pursue an active role and look after its interests when the Member States work out their common positions. One of the principal functions of our Permanent Mission to Geneva is to ensure that the views prepared in Brussels are incorporated into the EU's trade political positions presented to the WTO. During the Doha Development Agenda, Finland's goal is to contribute to a sustainable outcome and solutions that promote welfare at the global level.
Trade and development issues have a strong presence in Geneva. Developing countries' economic development and integration into the world trade is supported by means available in the framework of Aid for Trade (AfT) and implemented via several organisations and programmes active in Geneva. The Permanent Mission is engaged in close cooperation with the key actors, such as WTO, UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), ITC (International Trade Centre), and EIF (Enhanced Integrated Framework). Finland contributes to the financing of technical support to developing countries through these organisations and directs support especially to the LDCs and Africa. In addition, Finland support ICTSD (International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development), a non-profit and non-governmental organisation, whose mission is to contribute to a better understanding of development and environment concerns in the context of international trade.
The AfT initiative, which has been created in connection with the DDA negotiations, is also fostered in Geneva. Its aim is to improve developing countries' trading capacity to enable them to effectively participate in world trade and to benefit from it. The first Global Review and Annual Debate on AfT by the WTO General Council of November 2007 will be followed by a monitoring meeting in early summer 2009.
The largest trade and development organisation in Geneva is UNCTAD, which bases its action on three pillars: intergovernmental cooperation (consensus building), research and technical cooperation. Its future was discussed in UNCTAD XII,
a session in Accra, Ghana, in April 2008. The actual outcome of UNCTAD XII, produced in the form of the Accra Declaration and Accra Accord, was related to UNCTAD's input in the various sectors of trade and development. From the point of view of the EU and Finland, the documents can be said to be a balanced compromise, covering, for example, the goals that the EU prioritises: south-south trade and regional cooperation, commodities, investments and competition; and UNCTAD's strengthening by means of reforms. The Permanent Mission contributed to the work and conclusions of the session both directly and as a representative of an EU Member State.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, UNECE, was set up in 1947 to promote economic cooperation and boost economic growth in its member countries. UNECE membership comprises 56 member countries from Europe to the former Soviet and North American states, convening in Geneva on a regular basis in ECE subcommittees and their numerous working groups.
UNECE sets conventions, standards and norms and works out various analyses and statistics on topics in its area of expertise. It offers advice and technical support notably to countries in transition and provides a platform of discussion for its member countries. UNECE specialises in the following sectors: economic cooperation and integration, energy, environment, human settlements, population, statistics, timber, trade, and transport.
Finland participates in the work of the ECE's sectoral committees through experts representing the different sectors of the central government. The Permanent Mission represents Finland in the organization's decision-making body, executive committee and biennial ECE sessions.
The World Intellectual Property Organization, (WIPO) is one of the specialized agencies of the UN. It was established in 1967. To date, 184 states have become members of the organization and about 250 intergovernmental (IGOs) or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been accredited as observers entitled to attend WIPO meetings. The organization is dedicated to promoting the protection of intellectual property in cooperation with the member states and other international organizations. WIPO headquarters are located in Geneva, Switzerland.
In accordance with its Program, adopted for the years 2008/09, WIPO's strategic goals are promoting a balanced IP System and realizing its development potential, strengthening IP infrastructure, institutions and human resources, the progressive development of international IP law, delivery of quality service in global IP protection systems and greater efficiency of management and administrative support processes.
The WIPO Secretariat coordinates meetings and assists in the implementation of decisions and one of its key functions is to administer the international IP registration systems. WIPO's Director General is Dr. Francis Gurry from Australia. He took office on 1 October 2008.
The highest decision-making body of WIPO is the General Assembly. In addition, many agreements administered by WIPO have their own annual decision-making meetings. Furthermore, several Standing Committees and Working Groups have been set up within WIPO, which cover and discuss the wide range of issues related
to intellectual property.