Trade Negotiations Committee
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The first step is to talk.
Essentially, the WTO is a place where member governments
go, to try to sort out the trade problems they face with each other.
At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated
and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations.
But the WTO is not just about liberalizing trade,
and in some circumstances its rules support maintaining trade barriers
— for example to protect consumers, prevent the spread of disease or
protect the environment.
Subjects that cut across the agreements,
and some newer agenda items.
The WTO’s work is not confined
to specific agreements with specific obligations. Member governments
also discuss a range of other issues, usually in special committees
or working groups. Some are old, some are new to the GATT-WTO system.
Some are issues in their own right, some cut across several WTO topics.
Some could lead to negotiations.
While every effort has been made to ensure
the accuracy of the texts in these introductory pages, they cannot be
taken as an official legal interpretation of the agreements.
In addition, some simplifications are used
in order to keep the text simple and clear.
In particular, the words “country”
and “nation” are frequently used to describe WTO members,
whereas a few members are officially “customs territories”,
and not necessarily countries in the usual sense of the word (see list
of members). The same applies when participants in trade negotiations
are called “countries” or “nations”.
Where there is little risk of misunderstanding,
the word “member” is dropped from “member countries
(nations, governments)”, for example in the descriptions of the
WTO agreements. Naturally, the agreements and commitments do not apply
In some parts of the text, GATT is described
as an “international organization”. The phrase reflects
GATT’s de facto role before the WTO was created, and it is used
simplistically here to help readers understand that role. As the text
points out, this role was always ad hoc, without a proper legal foundation.
International law did not recognize GATT as an organization.
For simplicity, the text uses the term
“GATT members”. Officially, since GATT was a treaty and
not a legally-established organization, GATT signatories were “contracting
And, for easier reading, article numbers
in GATT and GATS have been translated from Roman numbers into European