According to Abbreviationfinder, the World Trade Organization WTO is an independent organization which, unlike the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, is completely outside the UN system. The WTO also differs from other international organizations in that all important decisions are made by the entire membership. Otherwise, there is often a manager or board with great decision-making power.
In the spring of 2009, the WTO had 153 member countries, and 29 countries had observer status with a view to becoming members. To become a member, a country must sign all WTO agreements. This is called single-undertaking in WTO languages.
WTO rules system
The basis of the WTO is a regulatory system for international trade. It consists of norms, principles, rules and procedures that govern how member states should formulate their trade policies. These agreements have been negotiated between the Member States and approved by their parliaments. The aim is to facilitate business for producers of goods and services, as well as for exporters and importers. WTO agreements are many and often long; they constitute legal agreements governing a wide range of sectors. There are special agreements on, among other things, agricultural goods, banking services, telecommunications, product security and intellectual property rights.
Overriding all sub-agreements, however, there are five important basic principles. Most central is the principle of non-discrimination: a country should not disadvantage any trading partner (by granting any other “most-favored-nation” status) nor foreign goods, services or persons in relation to domestic (through “national treatment”). ”). Thus, a benefit which applies to a Member State must also apply to all others, and imported goods and services must be treated at least as favorably as comparable domestic products. Exceptions to the most-favored-nation rule exist, for example for countries in a customs union such as the EU and for developing countries in certain contexts.
Another basic principle is that world trade will gradually, through negotiations, become freer. Furthermore, predictability must prevail in order to create a safe business climate. Competition in the market must be fair – which means that there may be certain restrictions on free trade, such as protection against so-called dumping. The fifth basic principle is that development should be favored, which means that the WTO allows greater flexibility, slower removal of trade barriers and certain privileges for less developed countries.
Organization and decision-making
The highest decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference, where the member states are represented by their trade ministers. Formally, each country has one vote, but decisions are normally made by consensus.
The Ministerial Conference shall meet at least every two years. Just over four years after the sixth ministerial conference in Hong Kong in 2005, however, no new conference had even been planned. The disagreement in the Doha Round was too great.
Ongoing work is carried out at the highest level by the General Council , which meets regularly at the WTO Headquarters in Geneva. In the General Council, all Member States have one representative. Sometimes the representatives meet instead as a body that handles disputes between member states (Dispute Settlement Body) or as a body that reviews the members’ trade policy (Trade Policy Review Body).
There are three councils under the General Council: one for Trade in Goods, one for Trade in Services and one for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Here, too, all members are represented. Under these councils, there are a number of committees and other institutions that are responsible for various sub-issues within the respective council’s area of responsibility. In addition, there are a number of committees directly under the General Council that are responsible for issues that go beyond what the three Trade Councils work with and deal with issues that belong to two subject areas, such as trade and the environment or trade and economic development.
The work is supported by a secretariat with more than 600 employees at the WTO’s office in Geneva. The secretariat is headed by a director general, who since September 2013 is the Brazilian Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo. The most important function of the Secretariat is to provide support to the member countries’ activities within the WTO. Other tasks are to provide technical support to developing countries, to provide economic analysis and to assist with legal knowledge in disputes between WTO members regarding the interpretation of agreements, and to provide support for WTO negotiations.
Collaboration with other organizations
The WTO has extensive co-operation with various UN bodies, such as UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and UNCTAD (United Nations Office for Trade and Development). Together with UNCTAD, the WTO runs the International Trade Center (ITC) in Geneva, which works with cooperation and education on trade issues for developing countries.
Since 1997, the WTO has been cooperating with, among others, the IMF, the World Bank and the UN agencies UNDP and UNCTAD in a special process (the so-called Integrated Framework, IF) with the aim of supporting the poorest countries’ development in the field of trade. Among other things, IF tries to ensure that trade issues are included in the countries ‘overall development strategies and works to ensure that the developed countries open their markets to the developing countries’ products.