The World Trade Organization is about negotiations and rules for trade among nations. It is managed by the 164 governments that are the WTO’s members with the assistance of an independent staff.
Roberto Azevêdo, who as Director-General heads that staff, and Vonai Muyambo, External Relations officer, talk about why the WTO was created and how it works.
If you want to go deeper on this topic, here are a few reading suggestions and a few additional explanations:
• WTO in brief
• The basics: WTO principles for trade
• The detail: Legal texts containing all trade rules and agreements in place
• History of the multilateral trading system
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified by their parliaments. These rules provide a predictable and transparent framework which makes it easier for producers of goods and services to trade across borders.
There are a number of ways of looking at the World Trade Organization. It is an organization for trade opening. It is a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements. It is a place for them to settle trade disputes. It operates a system of trade rules. Essentially, the WTO is a place where governments try to sort out the trade problems they face with each other.
All major decisions at the WTO are made by the membership as a whole. In other words, the governments run the organization, assisted by an international, impartial staff in Geneva.
The same is true for other functions of the WTO. For instance, in dispute settlement a panel of experts is called to decide on a certain question, but their ruling is only valid after being adopted by the membership: https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/disp1_e.htm
Is the WTO all about the bottom line?
Trade is one element of public policy, and governments do not think of it in isolation when deciding their trade policy. The very first page of the agreement creating the WTO puts sustainable development, protection of the environment and full employment in the conversation:
The Parties to the Agreement,
Recognizing that their relations in the field of trade and economic endeavour should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand, and expanding 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, seeking both to protect and preserve the environment and to enhance the means for doing so in a manner consistent with their respective needs and concerns at different levels of economic development, …
Agree [to establish the World Trade Organization].
Even if the focus of the organization is trade relations, the impact of trade on people around the world is so great that trade policy cannot be conducted in isolation. This consideration of the broader context is evident in all aspects of our work, in the research we conduct with other international organizations and in many dispute settlement rulings. Stay tuned to future episodes of Let’s Talk Trade to learn more about these issues.
Special thanks to …
Our experts in this video:
• Roberto Azevêdo, WTO Director-General
• Vonai Muyambo, External Relations Officer at the WTO
… and to you. This video was produced by the WTO’s audio-visual unit for information purposes, and for as wide dissemination as possible. Please share and recommend this video and others in this series!!