World Trade Organization
The World Trade Organization (WTO), founded in 1994, is an intergovernmental organisation that integrated the hitherto existing trade rules contained in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), expanding them with other multilateral trade rules, while overseeing them to make them more enforceable through the establishment of a dispute settlement mechanism under the auspice of the WTO. Many of these agreements are important for international business.
Flanders does not provide direct funding for this organisation, but follows the negotiating rounds and other business activities within the WTO on a technical level through the European Trade and Investment Protection Policy Working Group (WEHIB) of the Flemish Government. This working group brings together all cabinets and departments; the secretarial services of this working group are taken care of by the Department of Foreign Affairs. In this capacity, the Department of Foreign Affairs participates in intra-federal and European consultative bodies, which are linked to the weekly meetings of the Trade Policy Committee (of the Council) in Brussels, where the European Commission reports to Member States on the various developments in common trade and investment policies of the EU. Flanders can also count on the presence of the General Deputy of the Flemish Government at multilateral institutions in Geneva, assisted by a technical expert from the administration, for strategically important moments, such as the (bi-)annual Ministerial Conference.
As an open economy, Flanders has every interest in monitoring and steering the negotiations. Promoting free and fair trade is crucial for Flanders. Since 85% of Belgian exports are to Flanders, Flanders also has an effective impact on Belgium’s positions in these files/negotiations. A strong, multilateral system that draws up trade rules and ensures their compliance is important for open, stable and predictable international trade.
Flanders provides five of the six Belgian prospective panel members with respect to potential settlements of disputes, namely, Professors Pauwelyn, Van Calster, Van Der Borght, Wouters and Zonnekyn. A Flemish member, Prof Dr. Peter Van den Bossche, has also been appointed to the Appelate Body for the period 2013 to 2017.