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WTO and international trade


The lawyers who comprise our World Trade Organization (WTO) and international trade team help clients navigate the complex and rapidly-evolving web of international trade rules, and to engage with governments in support of trade treaty negotiations.

Trade rules are complex, sometimes open to different interpretations and often contentious. Most global trade is governed by WTO framework agreements which regulate trade between WTO members on the “most favored nation” principle and also set the ground rules that apply to “WTO-plus” bilateral and regional free-trade agreements (FTAs). Below these agreements sit a vast array of national (and sometimes regional) rules and regulations, including tariff and service concession schedules, customs laws and import/export rules. Understanding and complying with these rules can be challenging for businesses, but is vital for the success of import and export activities, providing services across borders and protecting investments in new markets.

In recent years – during the course of the Doha round of WTO negotiations – there has been shift in international sentiment, which has seen bilateral deals preferred to further multilateral trade liberalization. For international businesses, this trend brings with it risks and opportunities in the negotiation of new agreements. But the politics that underpins trading arrangements can change very quickly, creating new uncertainties, as recently illustrated by the UK’s “Brexit” decision to leave the EU and the election of Donald Trump as United States President.

For new trade treaties, business and industry will want to participate in the formulation of national negotiating positions, to ensure their interests are protected in home markets as well as to create viable new export opportunities. Achieving this requires the use of appropriate channels to ensure that industry preferences are taking into account – to influence the development of negotiations objectives, fallback positions, acceptable trade-offs and redlines.

As a law firm with a global reach, Norton Rose Fulbright can draw on a vast pool of experience of our lawyers around the world in advising on the full spectrum of WTO rules and processes which underpin the international trading system, including trade treaty negotiation and trade disputes. Our team is made up of individuals with a breadth of experience of trade law, trade treaty interpretation, trade negotiations and trade dispute resolution mechanisms. Members of our team have served at the very highest levels in government and diplomatic careers, leading on the negotiation of flagship international trade accords and important bilateral FTAs.

Our areas of work include

  • Access to government procurement markets
  • Customs regulations, controls and procedures
  • EU trade regulations and practice
  • Free trade agreements
  • Geographical indications
  • Government engagement
  • Investment law
  • Preference schemes
  • Recognition, harmonization and equivalence of standards
  • Rules of origin
  • Safeguards
  • Sanitary and phytosanitary issues
  • Tariffs and related WTO rules (including under GATT)
  • Tariff-rate quotas and other quantitative restrictions
  • Technical barriers to trade
  • Trade defense instruments (anti-subsidy and anti-dumping)
  • Trade dispute resolution, including under WTO dispute settlement mechanisms and through private-party/sovereign arbitration under Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs)
  • Trade in services law (GATS)
  • Trade policy formation, including risk/opportunities mapping
  • Trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS)
  • Trade treaty interpretation and public international law-related issues
  • Trade treaty negotiation support, lobbying and treaty drafting
  • WTO rules and practice
  • Videos
  • Publications

    Brexit - What next?

    Businesses face risks and opportunities during the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the European Union, with some sectors more affected than others.

    March 2017