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WTO in Brief

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

Facts about the WTO
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Established: 1 January 1995
Created by: Uruguay Round negotiations (1986-94)
Membership: 164 members as of March 2019
Budget: 197,203,900 Swiss francs for 2018
Secretariat staff: 650
Head: Roberto Azevêdo (Director-General)

Objectives of the WTO

In the preamble to the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, the parties to the Agreement recognize the objectives they wish to attain through the multilateral trading system:

  • raise living standards;
  • ensure full employment;
  • ensure a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand;
  • expand the production of and trade in, goods and services, while allowing for the optimal use of the world's resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development.

The Agreement also recognizes the need for "positive efforts to ensure that developing countries, and especially the least-developed among them, secure a share in the growth in international trade commensurate with … their economic development".

Functions:

  • 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

Structure

The WTO has 164 members, accounting for about 98% of world trade. Twenty-three countries are observers (with the exception of the Holy See, observers must start accession negotiations within five years of becoming observers).

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 WTO’s top-level decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference, which meets at least once every two years.

Below this is the 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 General Council also meets as the Trade Policy Review Body and the Dispute Settlement Body.

At the next level, the Council for Trade in Goods, Council for Trade in Services and Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights 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, regional trade agreements etc.

To find more information on the WTO please visit the official World Trade Organization`s web-site.

Ministry for Development of Economy,
Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine
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Grushevsky str., 12/2