UNDERSTANDING THE WTO
What we stand for
The WTO agreements are lengthy and complex because they are legal texts covering a wide range of activities. But certain simple, fundamental principles run throughout all of these documents and form the foundations of the multilateral trading system.
A country should not discriminate between its trading partners, and it should not discriminate between its own and foreign products, services or nationals.
Lowering trade barriers is an obvious way to encourage trade; these barriers include customs duties (or tariffs) and measures such as import bans or quotas, that restrict quantities selectively.
Predictability and transparency
Foreign companies, investors and governments should be confident that trade barriers will not be raised arbitrarily. With stability and predictability, investment is encouraged, jobs are created and consumers can fully enjoy the benefits of competition – such as increased choice and lower prices.
Discouraging “unfair” practices, such as export subsidies and dumping products at below normal value to gain market share; the issues are complex, and the rules try to establish what is fair or unfair, and how governments can respond, in particular by charging additional import duties calculated to compensate for damage caused by unfair trade.
Support for less developed countries
Over three-quarters of WTO members are developing economies or in transition to market economies. The WTO agreements give them transition periods to adjust to WTO provisions and, in the case of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, provide for practical support for implementation of the Agreement.
Protection of the environment
The WTO agreements permit members to take measures to protect not only public, animal and plant health but also the environment. However, these measures must be applied in the same way to both national and foreign businesses: members must not use environmental protection measures as a means of introducing discriminatory trade barriers.
The WTO seeks to build a more inclusive trading system that will allow more women and small businesses to participate in trade and to reap the economic benefits of global trading.
The WTO maintains regular dialogue with civil society, labour unions, universities and the business community to enhance cooperation and build partnerships. The WTO’s Trade Dialogues initiative and the annual Public Forum provide a platform for civil society and business groups to discuss the latest developments in world trade and to propose ways of enhancing the multilateral trading system.
The WTO recognizes the growing importance of e-commerce. Periodic reviews of the WTO’s work programme on e-commerce are conducted by the General Council based on reports from various WTO bodies. In addition, a group of like-minded members are conducting negotiations on e-commerce, with a view to developing global digital trade rules and addressing challenges posed by the digital divide.