The removal of 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 many 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 labor standards and the environment have been mentioned as examples of such broad themes. Trade liberalization and establishment of regulations have favorable effects although positive impacts are 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 in complete isolation from the rest of the environment.
Trade policy seeks to support the establishment of a friendly environment for business activities in different parts of the world. The World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva hosts negotiations aiming at agreements 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.
World Trade Organization WTO
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 the beginning of 2016 the WTO has 164 members, but the number is growing constantly.
The WTO is the only worldwide organization with 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 (DDA). Compared to previous rounds the agenda covers wider range of issues with the objective of concluding some new agreements and elaborating or revising present WTO Agreements. Progress has been slow. Some results were achieved in the Ninth Ministerial Conference in Bali in 2013 and in the Tenth Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in 2015 but most of the DDA agenda items remain unresolved. In the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration WTO members admitted for the first time their differing views on the future of the DDA. The question on how to continue work remains to be answered for the time being.
Finland works in the WTO as a Member State of the European Union. In the WTO meetings, the European Commission, which has jurisdiction and the right of initiative in trade policy matters, speaks on behalf of the 28 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 endeavors 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.
Trade and development
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 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.
The Aid for Trade initiative, which was created in 2005 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 Aid for Trade monitoring meetings have been held in Geneva every second year since 2007.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. The highest decision making body of UNCTAD is the Conference which is held every four years. Each Conference decides UNCTAD's upcoming four year mandate. The previous Conference UNCTAD XIV was held in July 2016 in Nairobi. In addition, UNCTAD organizes every year several meetings covering various UNCTAD topics.
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 UNECE 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 UNECE'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.
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is one of the 17 Special Agencies within the United Nations. WIPO is the global forum for intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation. The mission of WIPO is to lead the development of a balanced and effective international intellectual property (IP) system that enables innovation and creativity throughout the world. WIPO is also the administrator of global IP databases.
Besides acting in WIPO as an active and constructive member state, Finland participates in the discussions as a member of the EU and of Group B, a WIPO regional group consisting of developed countries. Finnish officials from the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, and the Patent and Registration Office take part in WIPO committees relating to their fields of expertise. The Permanent Mission participates in the representation of Finland as well as coordinates and supports the work of other branches of central government in the Organization.
Intellectual property rights (IPRs) form an integral part of the regulatory framework for promoting innovation. IPRs are generally divided into two main areas; industrial property rights and copyright. Industrial property rights include patents, utility models, trademarks, trade names, and certain other forms of protection such as the protection of integrated circuits and the plant variety rights. Copyright is a form of intellectual property, applicable to certain forms of creative work.
Reaching consensus on new multilateral IPR agreements has become difficult during the past decade. Due to politicization of the WIPO negotiations many normative processes i.e. Design Law Treaty and Broadcasting Treaty have prolonged with no outcome. Last finalized WIPO treaties are the 2013 Marrakesh VIP Treaty and 2012 Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances. In 2015, an update was agreed to Lisbon Agreement to extend its scope to Geographical Indications.
The main policy and decision making body of WIPO are the General Assemblies that convene once a year. During the course of the year, there are meetings of Standing or Permanent Committees and Working Groups that convene on wide range of issues related to IP. WIPO adopted a Development Agenda in 2007 that ensures development considerations in WIPO's work and provides Developing Countries with legal and technical assistance.
WIPO is a self-funding organization with over 90 % of its revenue generated by the fee-paid services, which WIPO provides to users of the international IP registration systems. WIPO has 192 Member States and over 250 NGOs and IGOs with an official observer status to WIPO meetings.
WIPO Headquarters is located in Geneva, Switzerland. The Director General of WIPO is Mr. Francis Gurry (Australia). He was first appointed to the post in October 2008 and re-elected in 2014 for the second term.