The World Trade Organization

THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the international organization that enforces the rules of international trade. The three main goals of the WTO (www.wto.org) are to help the free fl.ow of trade, help negotiate the further opening of markets, and settle trade disputes among its members. It is the power of the WTO to settle trade disputes that sets it apart from its predecessor, the GATT. The various WTO agreements are essentially contracts between member nations that commit them to maintaining fair and open trade policies. Offenders must realign their trade policies according to WTO guidelines or face fines and, perhaps, trade sanctions (penalties). Because of its ability to penalize offending nations, the WTO’s dispute-settlement system truly is the spine of the global trading system. The WTO replaced the institution of GATT but absorbed all of the former GATT agreements. Thus, the GATT institution no longer officially exists. Today, the WTO recognizes 157 members and 27 “observers.”

The WTO launched a new round of negotiations in Doha, Qatar, in late 2001. The renewed negotiations were designed to lower trade barriers further and to help poor nations in particular. Agricultural subsidies that rich countries pay to their own farmers are worth $1 billion per day- more than six times the value of their combined aid budgets to poor nations. Because 70 percent of poor nations’ exports are agricultural products and textiles, wealthy nations had intended to further open these and other labor-intensive industries. Poor nations were encouraged to reduce tariffs among themselves and were supposed to receive help in integrating themselves into the global trading system. Although the Doha round was to conclude by the end of 2004, negotia- tions are proceeding more slowly than anticipated.13

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