WTO’s rules — the agreements — are the result of negotiations
between the members. The current set were the outcome of the 1986–94
Uruguay Round negotiations which included a major revision of the
original General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
is now the WTO’s principal rule-book for trade in goods. The Uruguay
Round also created new rules for dealing with trade in services,
relevant aspects of intellectual property, dispute settlement, and
trade policy reviews. The complete set runs to some 30,000 pages
consisting of about 30 agreements and separate commitments (called
schedules) made by individual members in specific areas such as lower
customs duty rates and services market-opening.
these agreements, WTO members operate a non-discriminatory trading
system that spells out their rights and their obligations. Each country
receives guarantees that its exports will be treated fairly and
consistently in other countries’ markets. Each promises to do the same
for imports into its own market. The system also gives developing
countries some flexibility in implementing their commitments.
all began with trade in goods. From 1947 to 1994, GATT was the forum
for negotiating lower customs duty rates and other trade barriers; the
text of the General Agreement spelt out important rules, particularly
1995, the updated GATT has become the WTO’s umbrella agreement for
trade in goods. It has annexes dealing with specific sectors such as
agriculture and textiles, and with specific issues such as state
trading, product standards, subsidies and actions taken against
insurance firms, telecommunications companies, tour operators, hotel
chains and transport companies looking to do business abroad can now
enjoy the same principles of freer and fairer trade that originally
only applied to trade in goods.
principles appear in the new General Agreement on Trade in Services
(GATS). WTO members have also made individual commitments under GATS
stating which of their services sectors they are willing to open to
foreign competition, and how open those markets are.
WTO’s intellectual property agreement amounts to rules for trade and
investment in ideas and creativity. The rules state how copyrights,
patents, trademarks, geographical names used to identify products,
industrial designs, integrated circuit layout-designs and undisclosed
information such as trade secrets — “intellectual property” —
should be protected when trade is involved.
WTO’s procedure for resolving trade quarrels under the Dispute
Settlement Understanding is vital for enforcing the rules and therefore
for ensuring that trade flows smoothly. Countries bring disputes to the
WTO if they think their rights under the agreements are being infringed.
Judgements by specially-appointed independent experts are based on
interpretations of the agreements and individual countries’
system encourages countries to settle their differences through
consultation. Failing that, they can follow a carefully mapped out,
stage-by-stage procedure that includes the possibility of a ruling by
a panel of experts, and the chance to appeal the ruling on legal
grounds. Confidence in the system is borne out by the number of cases
brought to the WTO — around 300 cases in eight years compared to the
300 disputes dealt with during the entire life of GATT
Trade Policy Review Mechanism’s purpose is to improve transparency,
to create a greater understanding of the policies that countries are
adopting, and to assess their impact. Many members also see the
reviews as constructive feedback on their policies.
WTO members must undergo periodic scrutiny, each review containing
reports by the country concerned and the WTO Secretariat.
out more about the
out more about disputes.
return to this page, click on your browsers