Australia in the World Trade Organization
Australia has long been an advocate for a free and fair global trading regime as a key driver of sustained economic growth and stability, both nationally and internationally. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the cornerstone of the global trading system, where Australia works with 159 Members to ensure goods and services can be imported and exported free from unnecessary restrictions or discrimination.
The WTO was founded in 1995 on a set of treaties (the oldest of which dates back to 1947) which establish rules for trade in goods and services as well as the regulation of intellectual property and other trade-related issues. It also has a robust dispute settlement mechanism to enforce the rules. In the WTO system, all Members have equal voting rights and all decisions are taken by consensus.
The Australian Permanent Mission to the WTO represents Australia in all committees and sessions of the WTO to promote Australian interests and ensure other countries comply with the rules. Australia also continues to advocate for further liberalisation in the Doha Round negotiations. While Australia pursues trade liberalisation in many ways, including through bilateral and regional treaties with its closest trading partners, Australia sees liberalisation through the WTO as the clearest path to comprehensive economic reform, improved efficiency of markets and, ultimately, substantial and sustainable economic growth in all nations.
The Australian Permanent Mission to the WTO works in the following areas:
Open and non-discriminatory rules on the trade of agricultural and other goods are at the WTO’s core and, given Australia’s profile as a trading nation, of significant interest to Australia. As a competitive net exporter of agricultural products, Australia stands to gain substantially from the liberalisation of agricultural markets. Australia chairs the Cairns Group of 19 agricultural fair traders which advocates for the removal of damaging protectionist measures on agriculture, such as government subsidisation of exported products. Australia also promotes decreased tariffs and the elimination of non-tariff barriers in non-agricultural products - forestry, fish, minerals and industrial products, in particular IT products.
Services play a major role in modern economies and in 2012 trade in services accounted for 18.4 per cent of Australia’s total trade. For this reason, Australia seeks to ensure that all countries adhere to WTO rules on trade in services, and to negotiate new rules as part of the Doha Round to achieve further liberalisation.
As a trading nation with a strong research tradition and a need for access to new technologies, Australia has interests in the agreed international standards on the protection of intellectual property such as patents, trademarks and copyright. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is one of the WTO’s constituent treaties and a key means by which Australia protects these interests.
Trade and development
Economic development is the ultimate objective of trade liberalisation in the WTO and, consequently, poorer countries often have the most to gain. It is also in Australia’s interest to have a secure and stable global market in which to trade. For this reason, Australia has strongly supported the increased participation of developing countries in the WTO and the global trading system more generally, including though contributions to Aid-for-Trade initiatives such as the Global Trust Fund and the Enhanced Integrated Framework. Further information on Australia’s efforts to help developing countries use trade for economic growth and poverty reduction can be found at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Australia's profile as a trading nation means that it has a strong interest in ensuring that the international trading regime of the WTO is open, equitable and enforceable. The WTO's dispute settlement system is central to that goal. It is one of the cornerstones of the WTO, and gives member countries confidence that the commitments and obligations contained in the WTO agreements will be respected. Where a country is found to be in breach of its WTO obligations, the dispute settlement body will identify what measures that country must take to bring its trade regime into full compliance. Where appropriate, the country might be required to pay compensation or otherwise face retaliatory measures.
Further information on Australia’s participation in the World Trade Organization can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.