World Trade Organization (WTO)

Organisation mondiale du commerce (OMC)
Organización Mundial del Comercio

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Established on entry into force of Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization (Marrakech Agreement). Set up to encompass H-XF0985 - General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), following successful conclusion, 15 Dec 1993, of the 'Uruguay Round Negotiations' which had commenced in 1986. The Final Act of the Uruguay Round was signed on 15 Apr 1994, Marrakech (Morocco), by 111 countries, 104 countries signing the Marrakech Agreement the same day.

The idea of an International Trade Organization (ITO) – Organisation internationale du commerce (OIC) – Organización Internacional de Comercio (OIC) was first put forward by John Maynard Keynes and others in the 1940s, but not materialized. GATT, negotiated and signed by 23 countries in 1947, and established on 1 Jan 1948, Geneva (Switzerland), was a forerunner. At the same time, a number of countries were working on drawing up a charter for a proposed ITO, which would have been a specialized agency of the United Nations. The GATT was signed, 30 Oct 1947, ahead of 'UN Conference on Trade and Employment', 21 Nov 1947, Cuba. One of its provisions said that the agreement should accept some of the trade rules of the draft ITO chart, and it largely based on selected parts of the draft ITO charter. In order to get trade liberalization underway quickly it was provided with only minimum institutional arrangements because it was expected that responsibility for it would soon be assumed by ITO. However, plans for ITO were abandoned when it became clear that its charter would not be ratified and GATT was left as the only international instrument laying down trade rules accepted by the nations responsible for most of the world's trade. 'Interim Commission for the International Trade Organization (ICITO/GATT) – Organization (ICITO/GATT) – Commission intérimaire de l'Organisation internationale du commerce', set up Mar 1948, Geneva, to work on the proposed ITO, continued to exist, from 1954 in the form of the GATT secretariat in Geneva, its members being the governments of 128 countries at end of 1994.

The proposals which eventually succeeded in establishing WTO were initiated by H-XD0665 - European Community and Canada, and subsequently supported by Japan. The Marrakech Agreement envisaged a single institutional framework encompassing: GATT, as modified by the Uruguay Round; all agreements concluded under its auspices; the complete results of the Uruguay Round. It stipulates that T-XT4790 - General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, 1947 (GATT 1947) and T-XT9455 - General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, 1994 (GATT 1994) are two different agreements - they are legally distinct - although GATT 1994 includes the text of GATT 1947 and its legal instruments, as well as of several Understandings on interpretations and modifications of GATT Articles plus the Marrakech Protocol containing schedules of concessions on goods. GATT 1947 continued to exist to the end of 1995, allowing GATT member countries to accede to WTO and permitting an overlap in activities. GATT 1994 is an integral part of the WTO Agreement. The WTO framework ensures a "single undertaking approach" to the results of the Uruguay Round so that membership in the WTO entails accepting all the results of the Round without exception. WTO has a larger membership than GATT and much broader scope in terms of the commercial activity and trade policies to which it applies. Whereas GATT applied only to trade in merchandise goods, the WTO covers trade in goods, services and intellectual property, being covered in the separate T-XT9452 - General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and T-XT9491 - WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS); which were signed 15 Apr 1994, Marrakech (Morocco), as part of the Final Act of the 1986-1994 Uruguay Round of trade negotiations.

A Protocol of Amendement was opened for acceptance 27 Nov 2014 and following its ratification, it inserted T-XT1407 - Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) into the WTO Agreement.

'WTO Preparatory Committee', which ensured a smooth transition to the implementation of the WTO, ceased to exist on entering into force of the WTO Agreement.

Although the WTO is effectively a separate organization, WTO-UN relations are governed by "Arrangements for Effective Cooperation with other Intergovernmental Organizations-Relations Between the WTO and the United Nations" signed on 15 Nov 1995. The text sees no grounds for formal institutional links between WTO and F-XF1000 - United Nations System although it recognizes the need for the establishment of cooperative ties between the two organizations. Although it is not one of the financial institutions set up following the Bretton Woods Conference, 22 Jul 1944, the WTO is nevertheless sometimes included when referring to E-XE4376 - Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs).


Ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible by: administering trade agreements; acting as a forum for trade negotiations; settling trade disputes; reviewing national trade policies; assisting developing countries in trade policy issues, through technical assistance and training programmes; cooperating with other international organizations.


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Ministerial Conference (at least every 2 years). General Council oversees operation of the agreement and ministerial decisions, also acting as Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) and Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB), which have their own Chairpersons.

/Subsidiary Bodies/

Reporting to the General Council -

I. Committees and Working Groups/Parties:

  • -Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE);
  • -Committee on Trade and Development, including Sub-Committee on Least-Developed Countries;
  • -Committee on Regional Trade Agreements;
  • -Committee on the Balance of Payments Restrictions;
  • -Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration;
  • -Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance;
  • -Working Group on Trade and Technology Transfer;
  • -Working Party on Accession.

II. Council for Trade in Goods (Goods Council) and related bodies:

  • -Committee on Market Access;
  • -Committee on Agriculture;
  • -Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, for T-XT9323 - WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS agreement);
  • -Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade;
  • -Committee on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures;
  • -Committee on Anti-Dumping Practices;
  • -Committee on Customs Valuation;
  • -Committee on Rules of Origin;
  • -Committee on Import Licensing;
  • -Committee on Trade-Related Investment Measures;
  • -Committee on Safeguards;
  • -Committee on Trade Facilitation;
  • -Working Party on State-Trading Enterprises.

III. Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council) for WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

IV. Council for Trade in Services for General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and related bodies:

V. Trade Negotiations Committee, including:

  • -Special Session of Services Council;
  • -Special Session of TRIPS Council;
  • -Special Session of Dispute Settlement Body;
  • -Special Session of Agriculture Committee, including Cotton Sub-Committee;
  • -Special Session of Trade and Development Committee;
  • -Special Session of Trade and Environment Committee;
  • -Negotiating Group on Market Access;
  • -Negotiating Group on Rules;
  • -Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation.

Director-General appointed by General Council. Ministerial Conference. Secretariat in Geneva (Switzerland).


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UN Sustainable Development Goals **

GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal



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** UN SDGs are linked to the subject classification.

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