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The WTO in Brief printer friendly RSS facebook
29.08.2012 | 11:40 |

The WTO in brief

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

Facts about the WTO

Location: Geneva, Switzerland

Established: 1 January 1995

Created by: Uruguay Round negotiations (1986-94)

Membership: 157 countries in August 2012

Budget: 196 million Swiss francs for 2012

Secretariat staff: more than 600

Head: Pascal Lamy (Director-General)


Objectives of the WTO

In the preamble to the WTO Agreement, the parties to the Agreement recognize the objectives they wish to attain through the multilateral trading system:

  raise living standards;

  ensure full employment;

  ensure a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand; and

  expand the production of and trade in, goods and services, while allowing for the optimal use of the world's resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development.

The Agreement also recognizes the need for "positive efforts to ensure that developing countries, and especially the least-developed among them, secure a share in the growth in international trade commensurate with their economic development".



  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


The WTO has 157 members, accounting for over 97% of world trade. 27 countries are negotiating membership.

Decisions are made by the entire membership. This is typically by consensus. A majority vote is also possible but it has never been used in the WTO, and was extremely rare under the WTOs predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The WTOs agreements have been ratified in all members parliaments.

The WTOs top level decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference which meets at least once every two years.

Below this is the General Council (normally ambassadors and heads of delegation in Geneva, but sometimes officials sent from members capitals) which meets several times a year in the Geneva headquarters. The General Council also meets as the Trade Policy Review Body and the Dispute Settlement Body.

At the next level, the Goods Council, Services Council and Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Council report to the General Council.


Numerous specialized committees, working groups and working parties deal with the individual agreements and other areas such as the environment, development, membership applications and regional trade agreements.


To find more information about the WTO please visit the web-site at


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