Canada and the World Trade Organization (WTO)

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The World Trade Organization helps create rules for trade between its 164 members. Canada is a strong proponent of the multilateral trading system, with the WTO at its core.

Established in 1995, the World Trade Organization helps create rules for trade between its 164 members.

Canada has been an active participant in many WTO disputes, including as a complainant, respondent or third party. Participation in a WTO dispute settlement is a key way to help ensure the rights of Canadian traders are protected and help maintain the integrity of the dispute-settlement system as a whole.

Trade negotiations are an important function of the WTO.

The WTO Doha Round of negotiations was launched at the fourth WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, in 2001.

The WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA) is a tariff-liberalization agreement.

In 2014, Canada joined a number of other WTO members, including China, the European Union, Japan and the United States, in launching negotiations toward a new WTO plurilateral agreement on environmental goods.

The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO.

The WTO has a number of specialized committees and councils, working groups and working parties.

Surveillance of national trade policies is a fundamentally important activity running throughout the work of the WTO.

Canada is committed to its leadership role in finding solutions to the 21st-century challenges to the multilateral trading system.

Learn about Canada’s participation in the WTO Joint Statement Initiative on E-commerce.

If you have questions or comments, we would like to hear from you.

Overview of the WTO

Established in 1995, the World Trade Organization helps create rules for trade between its 164 members.

Canada is a strong proponent of the multilateral trading system, with the WTO at its core. Creating opportunities for Canadian workers and businesses through WTO participation is a central part of our trade strategy. The WTO provides a framework for pursuing those objectives on a global scale.

Canada has been a member of the WTO since the organization’s establishment on January 1, 1995.

The WTO:

  • administers WTO trade agreements;
  • provides a forum for trade negotiations;
  • handles trade disputes;
  • monitors members’ trade policies to help ensure compliance with WTO trade agreements; and
  • administers technical assistance and training for developing countries.

Canada endorses the goal of universal membership in the WTO and participates in all negotiations concerning countries seeking to join the organization.

Dispute settlement

Canada has been an active participant in many WTO disputes, including as a complainant, respondent or third party. Participation in a WTO dispute settlement is a key way to help ensure the rights of Canadian traders are protected and help maintain the integrity of the dispute-settlement system as a whole.

Canada has participated in WTO disputes as a:

  • complainant
  • respondent
  • third party

The WTO maintains a full list of all disputes involving its members and a repository of documents related to each case.

A full list, including instances in which Canada is a third party, can be obtained at the WTO website, where disputes are listed by member.

For information about how disputes are settled, see the WTO page on dispute settlement.

On July 25, 2019, Canada and the EU committed to an interim appeal-arbitration arrangement at the WTO.

Negotiations at the WTO

Trade negotiations are an important function of the WTO.

An important role of the WTO is to house negotiations on trade liberalization. WTO members have a standing mandate for multilateral negotiations under the Doha Development Agenda and are also pursuing plurilateral negotiations whereby subsets of the membership are interested in specific areas of liberalization, such as information technology and environmental goods.

Doha Development Agenda

The WTO Doha Round of negotiations was launched at the fourth WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, in 2001. One of the fundamental objectives of the Doha Round is to improve the trading prospects of less-developed countries, thus it is often referred to as the Doha Development Agenda. The mandate for the negotiations provided by the Doha ministerial declaration includes negotiations on agriculture, services, non-agricultural market access, trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, WTO rules (e.g., anti-dumping, subsidies), dispute settlement, trade facilitation, and trade and environment, among others. The broader Doha Development Agenda negotiations have been at an impasse since 2011. However, at the ninth Ministerial Conference in Bali in December 2013, members concluded negotiations on a key element of the Doha Development Agenda: an agreement on trade facilitation.

Canada views the WTO as the best forum for achieving broadly based trade liberalization and supports the goal of better integrating developing countries into the international trading system. For more information, please see the Doha Development Agenda.

Information technology

The WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA) is a tariff-liberalization agreement agreed upon through a Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information Technology Products. Signed initially in 1996 by 29 WTO members, participation in this plurilateral agreement has increased consistently since then. It requires each participant to bind and eliminate customs duties for all products specified in the agreement. The tariff elimination is implemented on a most-favoured nation basis. The ITA covers a large number of high-technology products, including computers, telecommunication equipment, semiconductors, semiconductor manufacturing and testing equipment, software, and scientific instruments and their parts and accessories.

In light of new technological developments, some WTO members agreed to expand the product coverage of the ITA. In June 2012 negotiations were launched to expand the product coverage of the ITA. The ITA expansion was concluded in December 2015, and implemented by Canada on July 1, 2016. The ITA expansion provides for the elimination of tariffs on 201 products, including media storage devices, navigational devices, video game consoles, and medical devices, for over 50 WTO Members.

Environmental goods

In 2014, Canada joined a number of other WTO members, including China, the European Union, Japan and the United States, in launching negotiations toward a new WTO plurilateral agreement on environmental goods. Such an agreement would eliminate tariffs on a range of environmental goods. More open trade would create new markets for Canadian manufacturers, provide incentives for Canadian businesses to develop new products to protect the environment and increase the availability and lower the cost of environmental goods for Canadians. For more information, including periodic updates and statements by Canada’s trade minister, please see the plurilateral WTO Environmental Goods Agreement.

Ministerial conferences

The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO. It meets at least once every two years and is attended by the trade ministers of WTO members. The Ministerial Conference can make decisions on any matters under any multilateral trade agreement.

WTO Ministerial Conferences

Trade policy reviews

Surveillance of national trade policies is a fundamentally important activity running throughout the work of the WTO. The WTO reviews the trade policies of its members at regular intervals. Canada participates in each review. The objectives of a trade policy review (TPR) include facilitating the smooth functioning of the multilateral trading system by enhancing the transparency of members’ trade policies. The frequency of each country’s review varies according to its share of world trade. Canada’s 11th review took place on June 12 and 14, 2019 in Geneva. Canada’s next TPR should occur in 2024 as, going forward, Canada will be reviewed by the WTO on a five-year cycle.

WTO Reform and the Ottawa Group

The WTO is at a crossroads and faces many challenges that are stressing the multilateral trading system. In response, Canada brought together a small group of WTO members committed to supporting and strengthening the multilateral trading system. This group consists of representatives from:

  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • the European Union
  • Japan
  • Kenya
  • Korea
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Singapore
  • Switzerland

The representatives of these countries are convened by Canada on a regular basis to engage in meaningful exchanges to enhance and improve the WTO over the short, medium, and long term.

The group works in the open and engages additional WTO members when appropriate. It will ultimately lead to advancing ideas and suggestions to the broader WTO membership for consideration and discussion.

Electronic commerce (e-commerce)

E-commerce, as defined by the WTO, is the production, distribution, marketing and/or sale of goods and services by electronic means. It can cover everything from the purchase and sale of merchandise goods and digital content via online platforms to any other trade in goods or services facilitated by electronic means.

With information technologies having eliminated distances between suppliers and customers, e-commerce is now a widely used platform and alternative for doing business across all sectors of the economy and for conducting international trade, and is an important part of the daily experiences and functionality of businesses and consumers across the global economy. The growing digitalization of trade and commerce has created significant new opportunities to help businesses and consumers. This makes access to new and established markets easier and allows us to take advantage of the benefits of trade.

Canada’s participation in the WTO joint statement initiative on e-commerce

The WTO has an important role to play in establishing a set of global trade rules to underpin the digital economy. In recognition of the growing importance of electronic commerce and digital trade—and the need for global trade rules in this area—Canada and other WTO members issued a joint statement at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2017 to begin discussions towards future WTO negotiations on the trade-related aspects of e-commerce.

Since March 2018, these discussions have been ongoing and are open to any WTO member who wishes to attend or participate. In January 2019, at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, officials representing 76 WTO members announced their intention to launch WTO negotiations on e-commerce in a further joint statement. In May and June 2019, Canada tabled a text proposal covering a range of areas and a concept paper titled “ Building Confidence and Trust in Digital Trade ”. An additional concept paper entitled “Preventing the use of personal information from being used for the discrimination or persecution of natural persons” was tabled in September 2019. Other WTO members have also tabled text proposals with a view to transitioning exploratory discussions to text-based negotiations.

Canada is a knowledge and service economy and has an interest in establishing a strong, rules-based framework in the area of e-commerce and digital trade. A future WTO agreement on e-commerce is expected to establish a more open, transparent and predictable global digital trading framework in which Canadian businesses and consumers can operate.

Domestic policy considerations

Through negotiations, Canada will seek to ensure an outcome that maintains appropriate policy flexibility to pursue legitimate domestic public policy objectives. This includes flexibility to adopt and maintain policies that support the creation, development and distribution of Canadian cultural content in the digital environment. Canada will also aim to maintain appropriate flexibility to adopt policies and other measures to protect the privacy and security of consumers and their personal information online.

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Contact

If you have questions or comments about this initiative, we would like to hear from you. Please contact Global Affairs Canada at:

Trade Policy and Negotiations Division (TCW)
Global Affairs Canada
Lester B. Pearson Building
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario,  K1A 0G2

Fax: 613-944-0757
Email: consultations@international.gc.ca

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