The WTO is a rules-based, member-driven organization — all decisions are made by the member governments, and the rules are the outcome of negotiations among members.
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Established:1 January 1995
Created by: Uruguay Round negotiations (1986-94)
Membership: 153 countries on 23 July 2008
Budget: 194 million Swiss francs for 2010
Head: Pascal Lamy (Director-General)
• Administering WTO trade agreements
• Forum for trade negotiations
• Handling trade disputes
• Monitoring national trade policies
• Technical assistance and training for developing countries
• Cooperation with other international organizations
WHAT IS THE WTO?
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global internationalorganization 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 and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.
UNDERSTANDING THE WTO
WHO WE ARE
There are a number of ways of looking at the World TradeOrganization. It is an organization for trade opening. It is a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements. It is a place for them to settle trade disputes. It operates a system of trade rules. Essentially, the WTO is a place where member governments try to sort out the trade problems they face with each other.
The WTO was born out of negotiations, and everything the WTO does is the resultof negotiations. The bulk of the WTO’s current work comes from the 1986–94 negotiations called the Uruguay Round and earlier negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The WTO is currently the host to new negotiations, under the ‘Doha Development Agenda’ launched in 2001.
Where countries have faced trade barriers and wanted them lowered, the negotiations have helped toopen markets for trade. But the WTO is not just about opening markets, and in some circumstances its rules support maintaining trade barriers — for example, to protect consumers or prevent the spread of disease.
At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations. These documents provide the legal ground rules for international commerce. They areessentially contracts, binding governments to keep their trade policies within agreed limits. Although negotiated and signed by governments, the goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business, while allowing governments to meet social and environmental objectives.
The system’s overriding purpose is to help trade flow as freely as possible — solong as there are no undesirable side effects — because this is important for economic development and well-being. That partly means removing obstacles. It also means ensuring that individuals, companies and governments know what the trade rules are around the world, and giving them the confidence that there will be no sudden changes of policy. In other words, the rules have to be ‘transparent’ andpredictable.
Trade relations often involve conflicting interests. Agreements, including those painstakingly negotiated in the WTO system, often need interpreting. The most harmonious way to settle these differences is through some neutral procedure based on an agreed legal foundation. That is the purpose behind the dispute settlement process written into the WTO agreements.
WHAT WE DO
The WTO isrun by its member governments. All major decisions are made by the membership as a whole, either by ministers (who usually meet at least once every two years) or by their ambassadors or delegates (who meet regularly in Geneva).
While the WTO is driven by its member states, it could not function without its Secretariat to coordinate the activities. The Secretariat employs over 600 staff, and...