The WTO is run by its member governments. All
major decisions are made by the membership as a whole, either by ministers
(who usually meet at least once every two years) or by their ambassadors
or delegates (who meet regularly in Geneva).
While the WTO is driven by its member states, it could not function
without its Secretariat to coordinate the activities. The Secretariat
employs over 600 staff, and its experts — lawyers, economists, statisticians
and communications experts — assist WTO members on a daily basis to ensure,
among other things, that negotiations progress smoothly, and that the rules
of international trade are correctly applied and enforced.
The WTO agreements cover goods, services and intellectual property. They
spell out the principles of liberalization, and the permitted exceptions.
They include individual countries’ commitments to lower customs tariffs and
other trade barriers, and to open and keep open services markets. They set
procedures for settling disputes. These agreements are not static; they are
renegotiated from time to time and new agreements can be added to the
package. Many are now being negotiated under the Doha Development Agenda,
launched by WTO trade ministers in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001.
Implementation and monitoring
WTO agreements require governments to make their trade policies transparent
by notifying the WTO about laws in force and measures adopted. Various WTO
councils and committees seek to ensure that these requirements are being
followed and that WTO agreements are being properly implemented. All WTO
members must undergo periodic scrutiny of their trade policies and
practices, each review containing reports by the country concerned and the
The 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’ commitments.
Building trade capacity
WTO agreements contain special provision for developing countries, including
longer time periods to implement agreements and commitments, measures to
increase their trading opportunities, and support to help them build their
trade capacity, to handle disputes and to implement technical standards. The
WTO organizes hundreds of technical cooperation missions to developing
countries annually. It also holds numerous courses each year in Geneva for
government officials. Aid for Trade aims to help developing countries
develop the skills and infrastructure needed to expand their trade.
The WTO maintains regular dialogue with non-governmental organizations,
parliamentarians, other international organizations, the media and the
general public on various aspects of the WTO and the ongoing Doha
negotiations, with the aim of enhancing cooperation and increasing awareness
of WTO activities.
Location: Geneva, Switzerland Established: 1 January 1995 Created
by: Uruguay Round negotiations (1986-94) Membership:
Budget: 196 million
Swiss francs for 2011 Secretariat
staff: 640 Head: Roberto Azevêdo (Director-General)
Administering WTO trade agreements
Forum for trade negotiations
Handling trade disputes
Monitoring national trade policies
Technical assistance and training for
Cooperation with other international