50 years, the multilateral trading system, a cooperative effort among a growing
number of countries, has helped deliver better jobs, growth, and development worldwide.
world markets and setting predictable and stable rules for trade, it has sparked an
18-fold growth in international trade. This was a reversal of disastrous policies in the
1930s, when increased trade barriers, discrimination among trading partners and an absence
of agreed rules helped fuel the Great Depression.
Trade Organization (WTO) was established five years ago, replacing the General Agreement
on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The WTO is an agreement among 135 member governments.
The members decide on the rules governing their trade relations, and periodically enter
into rounds of negotiations aimed at further opening up markets and reforming the
The WTO is a
rules-based organization that seeks to foster a world where persuasion supersedes
coercion, where the principle of non-discrimination among members imparts fairness, giving
small countries as well as big ones a voice, and where decisions are taken by consensus.
The organization is served by a Secretariat answerable to the members.
the vast majority of whom are democratically elected governments, decide what happens in
the WTO and in turn are answerable to the people they represent. When governments agree to
something at the WTO, they must take it to their elected parliaments for ratification.
What could be more democratic than that?
institution that affects societies and the lives of individuals, the WTO must evolve as
the world changes. And like any institution crafted by people, it can be improved.
Governments and their constituents are continually searching for ways of adapting and
improving the WTO. The challenge is to make it as representative and responsive as
possible to all interests, whether espoused by those with power and influence or those
without such advantages.
ago, when the WTO was established, the member governments agreed in Marrakesh, Morocco, to
broaden the scope of the system into new areas of their trade relations, to further expand
trade opportunities, and to carry forward their cooperation. Since then they have been
putting these agreements into effect.
Now, in Seattle,
fresh decisions are needed
- Should a new
round of trade negotiations be launched?
- What goals
should be set for scheduled negotiations on agriculture and services?
- What concrete
steps can be taken to help the poorest countries?
- How can we
speed the entry into the WTO of some 30 countries eager to join?
- Can some
existing agreements be better applied?
- How should
present work on trade aspects of environmental protection, investment and competition be
- How should the
WTO respond to concerns voiced by civil society, including the non-governmental
organizations present at the Seattle meeting?
pages discuss briefly how trade and the multilateral trading system contribute to a better
future, what the WTO has been doing, and the issues to be decided at Seattle. We then look
at some questions and misunderstandings about the WTO.
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