The complex, loosely defined area of competition policy is becoming more prominent on international agendas, at multilateral, regional, and bilateral levels. Most often it is perceived as one of the “new trade-related issues”, and yet it is neither new nor primarily trade-related. It is also open to very different interpretations, depending in part on a country's economic circumstances and in part on where countries or groups of countries wish to focus international discussions.
Competition policy is often treated as synonymous with competition law for dealing with anti-competitive private conduct in transnational markets. But the internationalization of competition issues will mean little unless national and transnational policies reflect a comprehensive approach to the promotion of competition, in the sense of creating the conditions and opportunities for merit-based competition and consumer benefit in all markets. Such a comprehensive approach does not, however, fit comfortably into the WTO's trade-driven and rules-based framework. There are difficulties relating to objectives, coverage, analytical setting, substantive provisions, and enforcement.
The interface between trade and competition was one of the “trade-related” issues that arose during the Uruguay Round negotiations, but nothing came of those discussions at that time. In the context of the GATT, the issue arose because of a concern that the gains to member countries from trade liberalization might be reduced or nullified if anti-competitive conduct within national markets prevented market access.