World Trade Organization WTO
World Trade Organization (WTO), international body that promotes and enforces the provisions of trade laws and regulations. The World Trade Organization has the authority to administer and police new and existing free trade agreements, to oversee world trade practices, and to settle trade disputes among member states. The WTO was established in 1994 when the members of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a treaty and international trade organization, signed a new trade pact. The WTO was created to replace GATT.
The WTO began operation on January 1, 1995. GATT and the WTO coexisted until December 1995, when the members of GATT met for the last time. Although the WTO replaced GATT, the trade agreements established by GATT in 1994 are part of the WTO agreement. However, the WTO has a significantly broader scope than GATT. GATT regulated trade in merchandise goods. The WTO expanded the GATT agreement to include trade in services, such as international telephone service, and protections for intellectual property—that is, creative works that can be protected legally, such as sound recordings and computer programs. The WTO is also a formally structured organization whose rules are legally binding on its member states. The organization provides a framework for international trade law. Members can refer trade disputes to the WTO where a dispute panel composed of WTO officials serves as arbitrator. Members can appeal this panel’s rulings to a WTO appellate body whose decisions are final. Disputes must be resolved within the time limits set by WTO rules.
All of the 128 nations that were contracting parties to the new GATT pact at the end of 1994 became members of the WTO upon ratifying the GATT pact. By 2003 the WTO had 146 members.
The WTO is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and is controlled by a General Council made up of member states’ ambassadors who also serve on various subsidiary and specialist committees. The ministerial conference, which meets every two years and appoints the WTO’s director-general, oversees the General Council.
Since its creation, the WTO has attracted criticism from those concerned about free trade and economic globalization. Opponents of the WTO argue that the organization is too powerful because it can declare the laws and regulations of sovereign nations in violation of trade rules, in effect pressuring nations to change these laws. Critics also charge that WTO trade rules do not sufficiently protect workers’ rights, the environment, or human...