The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. The WTO was established in 1995. The WTO’s goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.
The WTO provides a forum for negotiating agreements aimed at reducing obstacles to international trade. It contributes to economic growth and development. The WTO provides a legal and institutional framework for the implementation and monitoring of these agreements. It also contributes for settling disputes arising from their interpretation and application. The current body of trade agreements comprising the WTO consists of 16 different multilateral agreements and two different plurilateral agreements. All WTO members are parties to multilateral agreements. Only some WTO members are parties to plurilateral agreements.
The WTO currently has 153 members. 117 of its members are developing countries or separate customs territories. WTO activities are supported by a Secretariat of some 700 staff, led by the WTO Director-General. The Secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland. English, French and Spanish are the three official languages of the WTO.
Decisions in the WTO are generally taken by consensus of the entire membership. The highest institutional body is the Ministerial Conference. It meets roughly every two years. A General Council conducts the organization’s business in the intervals between Ministerial Conferences. Both the Ministerial Conference and the General Council comprise all the members. Specialized subsidiary bodies such as Councils, Committees, and Sub-committees comprising all members, administer and monitor the implementation by members of the various WTO agreements.
The WTO’s main activities are:
- negotiating the reduction or elimination of obstacles.
- administering and monitoring the application of the WTO’s agreed rules for trade.
- monitoring and reviewing the trade policies of members.
- settling disputes among members regarding the interpretation and application of the agreements.
- building capacity of developing country government officials in international trade matters.
- assisting the process of accession of some 30 countries who are not yet members of the organization.
- conducting economic research and collecting and disseminating trade data in support of the WTO’s other main activities.
- explaining to and educating the public about the WTO, its mission and its activities.