WTO: Organization & functions
The World Trade Organization came into being in 1995. One of the youngest of the international organizations, the WTO is the successor to the General Agreement on tariffs and Trade (GATT) 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.GATT and the WTO have helped to create a strong and prosperous trading system contributing ti unprecedented growth.
Functions of WTO:
- Administering trade agreements
- Acting as a forum for trade negotiations
- Setting trade disputes
- Reviewing national trade policies
- Assisting developing countries in trade policy issues through technical assistanceand training program
- Cooperating with other international organizations
The WTO has 153 members accounting for over 97% of the world trade. Around 30 others are negotiating membership.
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:The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The WTO’s agreements have been ratified in all members’ parliaments.
1. The WTO’s top level decision making body in the Ministerial Conference which meets at least once every two years.
2. Below this is the General council (normally ambassadors and heads of delegation in Geneva, but sometimes officials sent from members’ capita as the TradePolicy Review Body and the Dispute Settlement Body.
3. At the next level, the Goods council, Services council, and working parties and Intellectual Property Council (TRIPS) report to the General Council.
4 & 5. Numerous specialized committees, working groups deal with the individual agreements and other areas such as the environment, development, membership applications and regional tradeagreements.
The WTO secretariat, based in Geneva, has around 625 staff and is headed by a director general, the annual budget 122 billion of Euro. . It does not have branch offices outside Geneva. Since decisions are taken by the Members themselves, the Secretariat does not have the decision-making role those other international bureaucracies are given.
The Secretariat’s mainduties are to supply technical support for the various councils and committees, ministerial conferences, to provide technical assistance for developing countries, to analyze world trade and to explain WTO’s affairs to the public and media.
The Secretariat also provides some forms of legal assistance in the dispute settlement process and advises governments wishing to become members of the WTO.How can you ensure that trade is as fair as possible and as free as is practical?
The WTO’s rules, the agreements, are the result of negotiations between the members.
GATT is now the WTO’s principal rule book for trade in goods. The Uruguay round also created new rules for dealing with trade in services relevant aspects of intellectual property, dispute settlement, and trade policy reviews.Through these agreements, WTO members operate a non-discriminatory trading system that spells out their rights and their obligations. Each country receives guarantees that its exports will be treated fairly and consistently in other countries’ market. Each promises to do the same for imports into its own market. The system also gives developing countries some flexibility in implementing theircommitments.
.Since 1995, the updated GATT has become the WTO’s umbrella agreement for trade in goods. It has annexes dealing with specific sectors such as agricultures and textiles, and with specific issues such as state trading, products standards subsidies and actions taken against dumping.
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