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 a number of simple, fundamental principles run throughout all of these documents. These principles are the foundation 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 one of the most obvious ways of encouraging trade; these barriers include customs duties (or tariffs) and measures such as import bans or quotas that restrict quantities selectively.
Predictable and transparent
Foreign companies, investors and governments should be confident that trade barriers should not be raised arbitrarily. With stability and predictability, investment is encouraged, jobs are created and consumers can fully enjoy the benefits of competition — choice and lower prices.
Discouraging ‘unfair’ practices, such as export subsidies and dumping products at below cost 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.
More beneficial for less developed countries
Giving them more time to adjust, greater flexibility and special privileges; over three-quarters of WTO members are developing countries and countries in transition to market economies. The WTO agreements give them transition periods to adjust to the more unfamiliar and, perhaps, difficult WTO provisions.
Protect the environment
The WTO’s agreements permit members to take measures to protect not only the environment but also public health, animal health and plant health. However, these measures must be applied in the same way to both national and foreign businesses. In other words, members must not use environmental protection measures as a means of disguising protectionist policies.
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Established: 1 January 1995
Created by: Uruguay Round negotiations (1986-94)
Membership: countries on
Budget: 196 million Swiss francs for 2011
Secretariat staff: 640
Head: Roberto Azevêdo (Director-General)
Administering WTO trade agreements
Forum for trade negotiations
Handling trade disputes
Monitoring national trade policies
Technical assistance and training for developing countries
Cooperation with other international organizations