The main principles of the EU’s common trade policy are laid out in Article 133 of the Treaty: “to contribute, in the common interest, to the harmonious development of world trade, the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and the lowering of customs barriers”. Commercial policy covers all the main aspects of trade in goods and services (tariff and non-tariff barriers, trade defence, particularly in cases of dumping and subsidies, export loans) as well as key aspects of intellectual property, investment and competition.
The role of the Commission as defined in the Treaty, covers the initiation, negotiation and implementation of this policy, final decisions being a matter for the Council. The Parliament is involved in the co-decision procedure in the cases specified in the Treaty or is kept informed of the negotiations. The Commission acts through its appropriate organ, the Directorate General for Trade (DG Trade).
Trade policy is interconnected with an array of economic and social issues. Within this framework, DG Trade aims to promote the sustainable development of economic activities, ensure high rates of employment and social protection, maintain a high degree of competitiveness and convergence of economic performance, foster the protection and improvement of the quality of the environment, while facilitating economic and social cohesion and solidarity among Member States. Though most trade problems arise bilaterally, solutions have to be found at the most appropriate level, i.e. multilateral, regional or bilateral, depending on the nature of the problem and the applicable legal provisions.
The tasks of DG Trade are:
- to define (and reappraise) the trade interests of the European Community in both defensive and offensive terms,
- to negotiate bilateral, regional or multilateral agreements on the basis of negotiating directives proposed by the Commission and adopted by the Council,
- to monitor and ensure the implementation of international agreements by using the WTO dispute settlement system and the instruments for trade promotion or defence adopted by the Community,
- to take part in devising and monitoring internal or external policies which have a bearing on the Union's trade and external investments (single market, consumers, health, environment, technology, intellectual property, competitiveness, competition, energy, transport, agriculture, sectoral measures),
- to ensure consistency within the Relex group between the commercial policy and the Union's general external relations policy on the one hand and the contribution of the European Union to global economic governance on the other,
- to provide the public, both sides of industry, civil society and professional circles with clear, comprehensive and up-to-date information while seeking their opinions in compliance with the rules set down in the Commission's codes of conduct.