UNDERSTANDING THE WTO
Who we are
The overall objective of the WTO is to help its members use trade as a means to raise living standards, create jobs and improve people’s lives. The WTO operates the global system of trade rules and helps developing countries build their trade capacity. It also provides a forum for its members to negotiate trade agreements and to resolve the trade problems they face with each other.
Improving people’s lives
The fundamental goal of the WTO is to improve the welfare of people around the world. The WTO’s founding Marrakesh agreement recognizes that trade should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment, increasing real income and expanding global trade in goods and services while allowing for the optimal use of the world’s resources.
Negotiating trade rules
The WTO was born out of five decades of negotiations aimed at progressively reducing obstacles to trade. Where countries have faced trade barriers and wanted them lowered, the negotiations have helped to open markets for trade. Conversely, in some circumstances, WTO rules support maintaining trade barriers – for example, to protect consumers or the environment.
Overseeing WTO agreements
At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations. Essentially contracts, these documents provide the rules for international commerce and bind governments to keep their trade policies within agreed limits. Their goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters and importers conduct their business, with a view to raising standards of living, while allowing governments to meet social and environmental objectives.
Maintaining open trade
The system’s overriding purpose is to help trade flow as freely as possible – provided there are no undesirable side effects – because this stimulates economic growth and employment and supports the integration of developing countries into the international trading system. Its rules have to be transparent and predictable, to ensure that individuals, companies and governments know what the trade rules are around the world, and to assure them that there will be no sudden changes of policy.
Trade relations often involve conflicting interests. Agreements, including those painstakingly negotiated in the WTO, often need interpreting. The most harmonious way to settle these differences is through a neutral procedure based on an agreed legal foundation. That is the purpose behind the dispute settlement process written into the WTO agreements.