Depositary functions in the WTO

The WTO is an intergovernmental organization operating on the basis of several international agreements concluded by its members. In founding the WTO, members entrusted the Director‑General to act as depositary for these agreements and related instruments. As depositary, the Director-General is the guardian of the original WTO agreements and instruments, and provides certified copies of the originals to each member.

General guidance on officially accepting WTO legal instruments

The Director-General also receives instruments of acceptance and accession, and other official notifications and communications relating to WTO agreements. The Director-General informs members when he receives such instruments and communications. The corresponding notifications issued by the Director-General are available as WTO official documents under the WT/Let series (searchable here).

The Legal Affairs Division (LAD) of the WTO Secretariat assists the Director-General in carrying out his depositary duties. It prepares copies of relevant agreements and analyses practical legal issues arising in everyday depositary work in accordance with international treaty law and established depositary practice. Upon request, LAD also guides members and acceding governments in drafting their WTO-related legal instruments, such as instruments of accession and instruments of acceptance of protocols amending the WTO agreements.

The WTO follows established United Nations depositary practice, which is based in international treaty law, including the formalities and requirements concerning valid acceptance of international agreements.

The Depositary Assistant, who is based in LAD, prepares a publication on the Status of WTO Legal Instruments. This publication, which lists all legal instruments drawn up and deposited by WTO members in relation to the WTO Agreement and the plurilateral trade agreements annexed to that Agreement,  provides members with a consolidated compilation of instruments of acceptance and accession, and other official notifications and communications relating to WTO agreements. This publication also contains a useful explanation of the way in which the WTO agreements came into effect and the depositary practice covering changes to these agreements and related legal instruments.

Further guidance is available on how to accept WTO instruments, and on the final stages of the accession process.

Interested delegations are invited to contact the Depositary Assistant, Natalie Carlson, in the WTO Legal Affairs Division with any requests for assistance on depositary matters.