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United Kingdom Summary

Despite its small size, the United Kingdom is the fifth-largest trading nation in the world. Due to its reliance on trade, the UK has a major stake in maintaining a vigorous and open world trading system, and it favors the launch of a new round of trade negotiations focused on further liberalization of agriculture, industrial products and services.

The United Kingdom, as part of its membership of the European Community, has agreed to join with other Member States in a customs union with common arrangements for imports from and exports to third counties. These common arrangements are decided, discussed, agreed upon, and administered through the Community's 'Common Commercial Policy' (CCP). The United Kingdom, however, is a WTO member in its own right and maintains 'an effective and coherent external policy' to the EU's common stance. [1]

Tariff Liberalization

The United Kingdom favors reduced tariff levels across a broad range of sectors, including most goods and services. It seeks the elimination of nuisance tariffs (generally considered tariffs of 2% or lower) and tariff peaks; it also favors binding tariffs at applied rates. The UK understands that developing countries feel they did not benefit significantly from the Uruguay Round Agreements, and it proposes duty-free market access for LDCs and improved access commitments for all other developing nations.[2] With its particularly strong service sector, the UK also favors efforts towards broader market access for services. The United Kingdom urges more transparent and objective administration of anti-dumping rules to prevent their abuse as a protectionist measure. It also supports stronger rules on subsidies to minimize the trade-distorting effects of these measures.

Singapore Issues

The Agreement on Government Procurement includes only a few WTO members; the United Kingdom wishes to see procurement liberalized further in the next round of negotiations. In investment policy, the UK wants to strike a balance between guaranteeing investor rights and the legitimate right of governments to regulate businesses within their borders. And the UK supports competition policy because it believes the WTO would effectively prevent trade-distorting behavior by multinational corporations.

The UK supports trade facilitation measures, estimating that trade friction results in a de facto tariff of 7-10% on international trade. It seeks greater harmonization between nations to ease the movement of goods across borders. The United Kingdom also supports a continuation of duty-free status for electronic commerce and hopes to develop appropriate disciplines in the future to bring electronic commerce fully into the multilateral trading system. Unlike its peers at the EU, the UK is satisfied with the performance of the SPS Agreement and does not support amendment of this policy. The UK does, however, wish to see the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) revised to simplify and clarify international standards because it feels that technical barriers remain a major impediment to trade. [3]

Labor and Environment

The United Kingdom would prefer a stronger avowal confirming the involvement of the WTO and other international organizations in work led by the International Labor Organization (ILO) on improving core labor standards. Nevertheless, it welcomes the agreement reaffirming the Singapore Declaration and emphasizing the importance of this issue. The UK emphatically and explicitly rejects a sanctions-based approach in this area, and will continue to oppose any initiative to use labor rights for protectionist purposes. Whilst recognizing that the ILO is the most appropriate forum for dealing with labor issues, the UK has worked to develop a consensus that labor standards should be promoted through all the relevant multilateral organizations - the ILO, the WTO, the World Bank and UNCTAD. [4]

The UK also seeks greater incorporation of environmental concerns into the WTO and wants the relationship between Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and WTO rules clarified. The UK takes part in the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE), which examines the interface between trade and environment policies.


The UK believes that a development-focused trade round offers the best opportunity for many people in developing countries to escape from poverty and that the Doha Development Agenda could mark a major step forward. It advocates the lowering of trade barriers of particular significance to developing country exporters to help stimulate their economic growth. The UK Government has established regular contact with NGOs through the Trade Policy Consultative Forum.[5] This group meets regularly to discuss trade related issues, and brings together NGOs such as development charities, business associations, trade unions and consumer groups. The Forum provides an opportunity to share information, gather views and clarify certain issues.


Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements for the United Kingdom are mainly negotiated through the European Union. The UK conducts bilateral trade talks with a number of countries on an ad-hoc basis, though independent agreements are rare. Despite inevitably accelerated efforts by the UK (through the EU) to strengthen its standing in regional and bilateral agreements post-Cancun, the UK continues to believe that the multilateral system should be the cornerstone of global trade. To the end of ensuring this, the UK seeks a WTO review of preferential trade agreements to ensure that they do not obstruct multilateral liberalization. It seeks clarification of WTO rules relating to these agreements to determine their legitimacy within the multilateral trading system.


Dating back nearly four hundred years, the United Kingdom has been the globe's longest-standing advocate for free trade. Still today, it is among its strongest proponents. Within the EU, the UK acts as a consistent voice pushing for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Outside the EU, the UK has urged strongly against protectionist tendencies, such as those recently emerging in industrialized nations surrounding "offshoring". [6] For these reasons, the United Kingdom can be expected to act as a driving force in the furthering of the Doha agenda. Working primarily from within the EU, its efforts will be vital to the maintenance of progress in multilateral trade negotiations.

Last updated May 2004

[1] The United Kingdom's Department of Trade and Industry has created a web site that elaborates the UK's position on WTO negotiations despite its affiliation with the European Union, which has created its own common position. Department of Trade and Industry - UK Trade Policy Page
[2] Department of Trade and Industry -- UK Strategy Paper on Commodities
[3] Department of Trade and Industry - Technical Barriers to Trade Page
[4] UK Trade and Investment Page
[5] Department of Trade and Industry - Consultation Page. See also Christian Aid Page
[6] Department of Trade and Industry - Offshoring Page