Article XVI:1 of the WTO Agreement states that, except as provided for elsewhere in the Agreement or the Multilateral Trade Agreements, the WTO shall be guided by the decisions, procedures and customary practices of GATT 1947.
Articles XII:2 and IV:2 provide that decisions on accession are taken by the Ministerial Conference (which meets at least once every two years) or, in the intervening period, by the General Council (which meets much more frequently, usually once every six to eight weeks). Also relevant is Article IX , whose relationship with Article XII was clarified by the General Council in 1995. Whereas Article XII:2 provides that decisions on the terms of individual accessions are to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the WTO Members, Article IX:1 states thatthe WTO practice is to arrive at decisions by consensus; that, except as otherwise provided, a vote is only taken when it has not been possible to reach a consensus; and that a consensus is reached if no Member, present at the meeting when the decision is taken, formally objects to the proposed decision.11
The parallel existence of these two provisions raised the question of which one would take precedence, and under which conditions. Moreover, the absence of smaller delegations from the General Council meetings made it difficult to secure a two-thirds majority necessary for an affirmative decision in that forum. These issues were resolved in November 1995 when the General Council agreed that consensus-based decision-making would apply to WTO accessions-unless a Member requested a vote or consensus could not be reached.12 For the text of these provisions and the Decision, see Annex 2.
11. Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, Articles IX:1 (and footnote 1) and XII:2.
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12. WTO documents WT/GC/M/8, p.6, 15 Nov 1995, and WT/L/93, 24 November 1995, “Decision-making procedures under Articles IX and XII of the WTO Agreement.” The General Council also took note of the understanding that non-Geneva-based delegations would be given sufficient time to attend the meeting in question and that they would be provided with the opportunity to vote in absentia where a vote became unavoidable. back to text