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At its sessions on Foreign Affairs, the Council deals with the whole of the Union's external action, including common foreign and security policy, foreign trade and development cooperation. A priority in recent years for the Council, in cooperation with the Commission, has been to ensure coherence in the EU's external action across the range of instruments at the Union's disposal.
The principles and objectives of the CFSP are to safeguard the common values, fundamental interests, independence and integrity of the Union, in conformity with the principles of the UN Charter; to strengthen the security of the Union in all ways; to preserve peace and strengthen the international community, in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter; to promote international cooperation; and to develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Council is also responsible for the Common Security and Defence Policy. Defence Ministers traditionally participate in Foreign Affairs Council meetings twice a year, in addition to their informal meetings (also twice a year).
The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is the President of the Foreign Affairs Council, plays a key role in the formulation, preparation and implementation of the CFSP.
In the field of CFSP, the Political and Security Committee (PSC) helps define policies by drawing up opinions for the Council, without prejudice to the role of the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) in preparing Council sessions. The PSC also exercises, under the responsibility of the Council, political control and strategic direction of crisis management operations.
The European Union is the leading player in international trade -accounting for one fifth of total world trade - and has built up a world-wide network of trade relations. Successive enlargements of the EU and the consolidation of the single market have strengthened its position, both in bilateral negotiations with third countries and multilateral negotiations within the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The WTO is a focal point of EU trade policy. The promotion of trade in a fair and rules-based multilateral environment for the benefit of the international community is an essential element of EU policy.
In trade policy, the Commission, mandated by the Council and in consultation with a Council committee of high-level trade officials called the "Trade Policy Committee", has responsibility for negotiating and managing trade agreements involving tariff amendments, customs and trade provisions and protective measures.
Within the WTO, the Commission negotiates on behalf of the Union and represents the Member States in the settlement of disputes.
Union policy on development co-operation is aimed at complementing the development policies pursued by the Member States. Its main objectives are the sustainable economic and social development of developing countries, in particular that of the most disadvantaged amongst them, as well as the smooth and gradual integration of developing countries into the world economy and the eradication of poverty in those countries. At the same time, EU policy on development co-operation is aimed at reinforcing democracy and the rule of law, and promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Council enacts legislation in this field by qualified majority and in co-decision with the European Parliament.
The main emphasis in EU development co-operation policy is on co-operation with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States. The ACP-EU Partnership Agreement, signed at Cotonou in 2000, sets out the framework for the Union's trade relations and development co-operation with these countries.
The European Union and its Member States are the world's largest provider of development aid. EU aid is administered by the Commission, and is funded either through the EU budget or through the European Development Fund, a special fund dedicated to development in the ACP States. The EU is also the leading partner of many developing countries in terms of trade and direct investments.