The World Trade
Organization is the only global international organization dealing
with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO
agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading
nations. The World Trade Organization came into being in 1995. One of the
youngest of the international organizations, the WTO is the successor to
the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) established in the
wake of the Second World War.
So while the WTO is still young, the multilateral trading system that was
originally set up under GATT is well over 50 years old. The past 50 years
have seen an exceptional growth in world trade. Merchandise exports grew on
average by 6% annually. Total trade in 2000 was 22-times the level of 1950.
GATT and the WTO have helped to create a strong and prosperous trading
system contributing to unprecedented growth.
The system was developed through a series of trade negotiations, or rounds,
held under GATT. The first rounds dealt mainly with tariff reductions but
later negotiations included other areas such as anti-dumping and non-tariff
measures. The last round — the 1986-94 Uruguay Round — led to the creation
of the World Trade
The World Trade
Organization has more than
140 members, accounting for over 97% of world trade. Around 30 others are
WTO Activities and Services of the WTO
overriding objective of the World Trade
Organization (WTO) is to help trade flow smoothly, freely, fairly and
It does this by:
- Administering trade agreements
- Acting as a forum for trade negotiations
- Settling trade disputes
- Reviewing national trade policies
- Assisting developing countries in trade policy issues, through technical
assistance and training programmes
- Cooperating with other international organizations
Decisions are made by the entire membership. This is typically by
consensus. A majority vote is also possible but it has never been used in
the WTO, and was extremely rare under the WTO’s predecessor, GATT. The WTO’s
agreements have been ratified in all members’ parliaments.
The top level decision-making body of the WTO is the WTO Ministerial Conference which
meets at least once every two years.
Below this is the WTO General Council (normally ambassadors and heads of
delegation in Geneva, but sometimes officials sent from members’ capitals)
which meets several times a year in the Geneva headquarters. The WTO General
Council also meets as the Trade Policy Review Body and the Dispute
At the next level, the Goods Council, Services Council and Intellectual
Property (TRIPS) Council report to the General Council.
Numerous specialized committees, working groups and working parties deal
with the individual agreements and other areas such as the environment,
development, membership applications and regional trade agreements.
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