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NGOs and the WTO

The WTO maintains regular dialogue with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on various issues related to international trade. The aim is to enhance cooperation and increase NGOs' awareness of WTO activities and the role of the rules-based multilateral trading system.

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Public Forum 

What is the Public Forum?

The Public Forum is the WTO’s largest annual outreach event. It provides a platform for public debate across a wide range of WTO issues and trade topics. The Forum is also an opportunity for the WTO to listen and exchange views with NGOs.

More than 9,000 representatives of NGOs, academia, business, media, government, parliamentarians and intergovernmental organizations have participated in the Public Forum since it was first launched in 2001 (until 2005 it was known as the Public Symposium). The Forum gives participants the opportunity not only to take part in discussions but also to organize their own sessions.


Previous Public Forums

Previous Public Forums have focused on various trade issues, ranging from the future of trade to harnessing globalization.


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How can NGOs contribute to the WTO debate? 

NGOs can register to take part in Ministerial Conferences, the highest decision-making body of the WTO which meets every two years. During a Ministerial Conference, NGOs are briefed regularly by the WTO External Relations team on the progress of discussions between WTO members. NGOs can also provide position papers to the WTO Secretariat on the issues covered by the Ministerial Conference. Civil society at the Bali Ministerial Conference, December 2013

NGOs can participate in the Public Forum.

NGOs may provide position papers, which the WTO Secretariat distributes to members. A position paper is a written statement asserting the position of an organization on a particular WTO topic. The latest position papers are available here.

Accreditation: A total of 52 local NGOs representatives are currently accredited to the WTO. They receive regular briefings on WTO issues. NGO accreditation badges are valid for one year and allow NGOs to access the WTO building for specific events or meetings without the need for registration.

NGOs can attend the public hearings of some dispute settlement proceedings.


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When the WTO was created in 1995, WTO members established a legal basis for consultation and cooperation with NGOs (Article V.2 of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization).

In July 1996, the General Council clarified the mandate (WT/L/162), which acts as the basis for WTO-NGO relations today.

Members recognized "the role NGOs can play to increase the awareness of the public in respect of WTO activities". They wished to "improve transparency and develop communication with NGOs" by giving the WTO Secretariat the authority to establish direct contacts with NGOs. They identified a number of communication channels, including the organization of a symposium (now known as the Public Forum) and briefings.


NGO Liaison Office
0041 22 739 50 75


Public Forum 2016


Recent issue


WTO at twenty (20/01/2015)

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