WTO—an introductory guide
Produced in partnership with Chris Bryant of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

The following Public Law practice note produced in partnership with Chris Bryant of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • WTO—an introductory guide
  • What is the World Trade Organization (WTO)?
  • Key WTO agreements
  • GATT
  • GATS
  • TRIPS
  • GPA
  • TFA
  • Key WTO principles
  • MFN
  • More...

WTO—an introductory guide

What is the World Trade Organization (WTO)?

The WTO administers the WTO trade agreements which govern trade between states. It is also a forum for governments to negotiate bilateral or multilateral trade agreements and settle trade disputes, helping states to trade with each other with as little friction and disruption as possible. For background reading on the WTO, see: WTO—Who we are and WTO—In brief.

The WTO began on 1 January 1995, though its trading rules are older. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) has provided a set of rules for global trade in goods since 1948. GATT was amended through various rounds of negotiations.

Negotiations in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, known as the Uruguay Round, were aimed at extending the remit of the trading system to include services and intellectual property. The Uruguay Round of negotiations culminated in a deal signed on 15 April 1994 by most of the 123 participating governments. The deal included the establishment of the WTO.

The WTO has 164 members. Its work is supported by the Secretariat located in Geneva.

The WTO’s main activities are:

  1. attempting to reduce trade barriers

  2. agreeing rules for the conduct of trade

  3. monitoring adherence to the WTO’s rules for trade

  4. reviewing members’ trade policies

  5. settling disputes between members

  6. assisting government officials in developing countries

  7. helping non-members to join the WTO, and

  8. researching economics

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