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Rules-based trade

The World Trade Organization (WTO) deals with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

At the heart of the organization are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations. These documents provide the legal ground-rules for international commerce. They are essentially contracts, binding governments to keep their trade policies within agreed limits. Trade within the framework of the WTO agreements is described as “rules-based”, meaning it is a system based on rules.

A rules-based trading system ensures that individuals, businesses and governments know what the trade rules are around the world. It gives them the confidence to do business under stable predictable conditions.


What are the WTO rules about?

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 services markets.
  • They set procedures for settling disputes. 
  • They prescribe special treatment for developing countries.
  • They require governments to make their trade policies transparent by notifying the WTO about laws in force and measures adopted.
  • They require the WTO Secretariat to regularly issue reports on countries’ trade policies.


Special thanks to...

  • Bernard Kuiten, Head of External Relations, WTO
  • Sainabou Taal, Legal/Economics Officer, WTO Rules Division
  • Centre de formation professionnelle nature et environnement de Lullier, Geneva
  • RomandieFlor, Fleurs en gros, Vessy, Geneva
  • You, for sharing


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