The WTO or World Trade Organization is the only international body dealing with the rules of trade between nations. Membership is voluntary and at the moment the WTO has nearly 150 member nations, who together represent over 97% of global trade. Over 30 additional countries are negotiating membership.
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the WTO is completely separate from the United Nations and was not formally established until January 1, 1995.
The WTO provides the framework for member governments to negotiate trade agreements and resolve trade disputes. Trade agreements have the status of international treaties. They are negotiated by consensus and signed by ministerial-level representatives of member governments, but they do not enter into force until ratified by two-thirds of the national legislatures (parliaments) of member nations.
|The scope of trade agreements has expanded over the years. Initially focused on agricultural products and manufactured goods, WTO treaties now cover services and intellectual property:|
|General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the initial treaty, was first adopted in 1947 and substantially revised in 1994.|
|General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) entered into force January 1995 and covers banking, insurance, telecommunications, transport, travel and hotels.|
|Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs) also entered into force January 1995 and covers copyrights, patents, trademarks, industrial designs, integrated circuit layout and trade secrets.|
The WTO serves as a sort of clearinghouse for proposed environmental and safety regulations because the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) requires national governments to notify the WTO Secretariat whenever their proposed technical regulations or conformity assessment procedures are not based upon international standards.