World Trade Organization

World Trade Organization

Unlike GATT, the WTO is a permanent body but not a specialized agency of the United Nations.

Introduction to World Trade Organization

World Trade Organization (WTO), international body that promotes and enforces the provisions of trade laws and regulations. The World Trade Organization has the authority to administer and police new and existing free trade agreements, to oversee world trade practices, and to settle trade disputes among member states. The WTO was established in 1994 when the members of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a treaty and international trade organization, signed a new trade pact. The WTO was created to replace GATT. All of the 128 nations that were contracting parties to the new GATT pact at the end of 1994 became members of the WTO upon ratifying the GATT pact. A number of other nations have joined the WTO since then.

The WTO began operation on January 1, 1995. GATT and the WTO coexisted until December 1995, when the members of GATT met for the last time. Although the WTO replaced GATT, the trade agreements established by GATT in 1994 are part of the WTO agreement. However, the WTO has a significantly broader scope than GATT. GATT regulated trade in merchandise goods. The WTO expanded the GATT agreement to include trade in services, such as international telephone service, and protections for intellectual property-that is, creative works that can be protected legally, such as sound recordings and computer programs. The WTO is also a formally structured organization whose rules are legally binding on its member states. The organization provides a framework for international trade law. Members can refer trade disputes to the WTO where a dispute panel composed of WTO officials serves as arbitrator. Members can appeal this panel’s rulings to a WTO appellate body whose decisions are final. Disputes must be resolved within the time limits set by WTO rules.

The WTO is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and is controlled by a General Council made up of member states’ ambassadors who also serve on various subsidiary and specialist committees. The ministerial conference, which meets every two years and appoints the WTO’s director-general, oversees the General Council.

Since its creation, the WTO has attracted criticism from those concerned about free trade and economic globalization. Opponents of the WTO argue that the organization is too powerful because it can declare the laws and regulations of sovereign nations in violation of trade rules, in effect pressuring nations to change these laws. Critics also charge that WTO trade rules do not sufficiently protect workers’ rights, the environment, or human health. Some groups charge that the WTO lacks democratic accountability because its hearings on trade disputes are closed to the public and press. WTO officials have dismissed arguments that the organization is undemocratic, noting that its member nations, most of which are democracies, wrote the WTO rules and selected its leadership. WTO supporters argue that it plays a critical role in helping expand world trade and raise living standards around the world.

Criticism of the WTO reached an apex in late 1999, when more than 30,000 protesters disrupted a WTO summit in Seattle, Washington. The protesters called for reforms that would make the organization more responsive to consumers, workers, and environmentalists. The summit failed in its goal to set an agenda for a new round of global trade talks, largely because of disagreements between industrialized and developing nations. These disagreements focused on agricultural subsidies provided by the developed countries, particularly the European Union (EU) and the United States, to support their farmers. Developing countries objected to the extent of the subsidies, which amount to about $300 billion annually, arguing that such generous support artificially lowered world crop prices and made it difficult, if not impossible, for farmers in developing countries to compete. The failure of the richer nations to reach agreement on lowering agricultural subsidies continued to derail trade talks in the early 2000s. See also Globalization.” (1)

The Doha Round of talks

This Round was launched in 2001, originally scheduled to be finished in Jan., 2005.

After the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)

The WTO took over the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade’s rules with increased powers, and brought intellectual property rights, agriculture, clothing and textiles, and services under its control. The GATT was created with the purpose to be replaced by the International Trade Organization (ITO), a specialized agency of the United Nations. Despite that this purpose never was a reality (see more about the failure of the International Trade Organization), the GATT was clarly successful in achieve global liberalization during 50 years.

“In some respects, the WTO is a new organization, growing out of globalization, but the idea of an international trade institution dates at least to the period immediately following World War II (1939-1945). The Bretton Woods Conference of 1944, near the end of World War II, proposed the creation of an International Trade Organization to complement the International Monetary Fund and Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) in order to stabilize the postwar world economy and promote trade. The member states of the United Nations (UN) agreed to the creation of the International Trade Organization (ITO) at the UN Conference on Trade and Employment in Havana, Cuba, in 1948. The ITO charter covered trade in goods and services and included rules on employment, commodity agreements, restrictive business practices, and investment. The organization failed to materialize, however, when the U.S. Senate rejected the implementing agreement.”(2)

Legal Materials

The WTO was created in 1995 by the Uruguay Round agreements. Formerly, international trade (in goods only) was regulated by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and an organization also known as GATT. GATT was incorporated into the much larger WTO, which regulates international trade in goods, services and intellectual property.

The WTO Web site posts the Uruguay Round agreements and many of other documents, plus other publications and information.

WTO ministerial declarations are available on Westlaw (WTO-DEC). WTO Dispute Settlement Reports are on Lexis (ITRADE;WTODS).

A bibliography of materials published by the WTO is available in Introduction to International Business Law: Legal Transactions in a Global Economy (Chapter 10). For more information and resources, see Jeanne Rehberg’s WTO and GATT Research.

The Democratic Roots of the World Trade Organization and the World Trade Organization

The Democratic Roots of the World Trade Organization in relation to the World Trade Organization (WTO) covers several issues.

World Trade Organization

Find out, in this world legal encyclopedia, additional information relating to World Trade Organization .

World Trade Organization (WTO)

The World Trade Organization, abbreviated as WTO, is an international organisation with a membership covering 157 countries (as of August 2012). The WTO also has several candidate members in the process of joining

The WTO is the only global international organisation dealing with the rules of trade between nations. WTO sets the global rules for trade, providing a forum for trade negotiations and for settling disputes between WTO members

At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the vast majority of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their national parliaments. The WTO’s goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business effectively and efficiently on a global basis. The latest round of WTO multilateral trade negotiations is known as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). Understanding the WTO

World Trade Organization – Home page

Statistical Data

International trade statistics introduced

World Trade Organization

In relation to the international law practice and world trade organization in this world legal Encyclopedia, please see the following section:

Trade, Commercial Relations, Investment, and Transportation

About this subject:

Dispute Settlement

Note: there is detailed information and resources under these topics during the year 2013, covered by this entry on world trade organization in this law Encyclopedia.

World Trade Organization

Embracing mainstream international law, this section on world trade organization explores the context, history and effect of the area of the law covered here.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

This section provides an overview of world trade organization (wto) within the legal context of General, Trade and Investment Related Institutions in international economic law, with coverage of Architecture.


See Also

  • International Organization
  • Foreign Relations
  • Organization
  • United Nations
  • United Nations System
  • UN Agency


Further Reading

  • Gabrielle Marceau, “World Trade Organization (WTO),” Elgar Encyclopedia of International Economic Law, Cheltenham Glos (United Kingdom), Northampton, MA (United States)


Further Reading

  • The entry “world trade organization” in the Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (currently, the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 2009), Oxford University Press


Notes and References

    1. Information about World Trade Organization in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
    2. “World Trade Organization.”International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008.

See Also

    • Diplomacy
    • Free Trade
    • Globalization
    • International Monetary Fund
    • International Trade
    • Uruguay Round
    • World Bank
    • World Intellectual Property Organization-World Trade Organization: Agreement Between WIPO and WTO
    • World Intellectual Property Organization: Copyright Treaty
    • General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
    • Peter Mandelson (British politician)
    • Renato Ruggiero (Italian diplomat)
    • Doing Business in Foreign Countries
    • General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
    • International Trade
    • Treaties
    • United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)

Further Reading

  • Bhagwati, Jagdish. 2005. In Defense of Globalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Jackson, John H. 1998. The World Trade Organization: Constitution and Jurisprudence. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs.
  • Lamy, Pascal. 2006. Partnership and Global Prosperity. Speech made on June 5, 2006, in Montreal, Canada, for the International Economic Forum of the Americas.
  • Scott, Jeffrey J., ed. 2000. WTO after Seattle. Washington, DC: Institute for International Peace.
  • Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2003. Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: Norton.
  • Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2006. Making Globalization Work. New York: Norton.
  • William Diebold, The End of ITO (1952)
  • Douglas A. Irwin, “The GATT in Historical Perspective,” The American Economic Review 85(2): 323-328 (May 1995)
  • Charles P. Kindleberger, “Commercial Policy Between the Wars,” in Peter Mathias and Sidney Pollard (eds.), The Industrial Economies: The Development of Economic and Social Policies (1989), pp. 161-196, vol. 8 of The Cambridge Economic History of Europe.
  • Gerard Curzon, Multilateral Commercial Diplomacy: The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and Its Impact on National Commercial Policies and Techniques (1965)
  • Kenneth W. Dam, The GATT: Law and International Economic Organization (1970, reprinted 1977)
  • Bernard M. Hoekman and Michel M. Kostecki, The Political Economy of the World Trading System: From GATT to WTO (1995)

Robert E. Hudec, Enforcing International Trade Law: The Evolution of the Modern GATT Legal System (1993)
John H. Jackson, The World Trading System: Law and Policy of International Economic Relations, 2nd ed. (1997)
Anne O. Krueger and Chonira Aturupane (eds.), The WTO as an International Organization (1998, reissued 2000)
Michael J. Trebilcock and Robert Howse, The Regulation of International Trade, 2nd ed. (1999)
Gilbert R. Winham, The Evolution of International Trade Agreements (1992).

Thomas, Janet. 2000. The Battle in Seattle: The Story behind and beyond the WTO Demonstrations. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.

Wallach, Lori, and Michell Sforza. 1999. Whose Trade Organization? Corporate Globalization and the Erosion of Democracy: An Assessment of the World Trade Organization. Washington, DC: Public Citizen.

Legal aspects of the WTO: Future of the WTO