Saturday, 19 August 2017

Investopedia/Reem Heakal: What Is The World Trade Organisation?


What Is the World Trade Organization? By Reem Heakal | Updated August 17, 2017 — 1:57 PM EDT
Share

You may remember seeing news footage of the protests at the doors of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Third Ministerial Conference held in Seattle, Washington, in 1999. Similar demonstrations against the WTO have also occurred in Italy, Spain, Canada and Switzerland. What is the WTO, and why do so many people oppose it? The following article addresses these questions and concerns regarding the world's only international organization that deals with the global rules of trade.
What Is the WTO?

The WTO was born out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was established in 1947. A series of trade negotiations, GATT rounds began at the end of World War II and were aimed at reducing tariffs for the facilitation of global trade on goods. The rationale for GATT was based on the Most Favored Nation (MFN) clause, which, when assigned to one country by another, gives the selected country privileged trading rights. As such, GATT aimed to help, all countries obtain MFN-like status so that no single country would be at a trading advantage over others.

The WTO replaced GATT as the world's global trading body in 1995, and the current set of governing rules stems from the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations, which took place throughout 1986-1994. GATT trading regulations established between 1947 and 1994 (and in particular those negotiated during the Uruguay Round) remain the primary rule book for multilateral trade in goods. Specific sectors such as agriculture have been addressed, as well as issues dealing with anti-dumping.

The Uruguay Round also laid the foundations for regulating trade in services. The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is the guideline directing multilateral trade in services. Intellectual property rights were also addressed in the establishment of regulations protecting the trade and investment of ideas, concepts, designs, patents, and so forth.

The purpose of the WTO is to ensure that global trade commences smoothly, freely and predictably. The WTO creates and embodies the legal ground rules for global trade among member nations and thus offers a system for international commerce. The WTO aims to create economic peace and stability in the world through a multilateral system based on consenting member states (currently there are slightly more than 140 members) that have ratified the rules of the WTO in their individual countries as well. This means that WTO rules become a part of a country's domestic legal system. The rules, therefore, apply to local companies and nationals in the conduct of business in the international arena. If a company decides to invest in a foreign country, by, for example, setting up an office in that country, the rules of the WTO (and hence, a country's local laws) will govern how that can be done. Theoretically, if a country is a member of the WTO, its local laws cannot contradict WTO rules and regulations, which currently govern approximately 97% of all world trade.
How It Functions

The current head of the World Trade Organization is Roberto Azevêdo; however, decisions are made by consensus, though a majority vote may also rule (this is very rare). Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the Ministerial Committee, which holds meetings at least every two years, makes the top decisions. There is also a General Council, a Goods Council, Services Council, and an Intellectual Property Rights Council, which all report to the General Council. Finally, there are many working groups and committees.

If a trade dispute occurs, the WTO works to resolve it. If for example, a country erects a trade barrier in the form of a customs duty against a particular country or a particular good, the WTO may issue trade sanctions against the violating country. The WTO will also work to resolve the conflict through negotiations.
Free Trade at What Cost?

The anti-WTO protests we have seen around the world are a response to the consequences of establishing a multilateral trading system. Critics say that the after-effects of WTO policies are undemocratic because of the lack of transparency during negotiations. Opponents also argue that since the WTO functions as a global authority on trade and reserves the right to review a country's domestic trade policies, national sovereignty is compromised. For example, regulations that a country may wish to establish to protect its industry, workers or environment could be considered barriers to the WTO's aim to facilitate free trade. A country may have to sacrifice its own interests to avoid violating WTO agreements. Thus, a country becomes limited in its choices. Moreover, brutal regimes that are pernicious to their own countries may inadvertently be receiving concealed support from foreign governments who continue, in the name of free trade, to do business with these regimes. Unfavorable governments in favor of big business, therefore, remain in power at the cost of a representative government.

One high-profile WTO controversy has to do with intellectual property rights and a government's duty to its citizens versus a global authority. One well-known example is HIV/AIDS treatments and the cost of patented medicines. Poor, very needy countries, such as those in South America and sub-Saharan Africa, simply cannot afford to buy these patented drugs. If they were to buy or manufacture these same drugs under an affordable generic label, which would save thousands of lives, these countries would, as members of the WTO, be in violation of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) agreements and subject to possible trade sanctions.
The Bottom Line

Free trade fosters investment into other countries, which can help boost the economy and eventually the standard of living of all countries involved. As most investment comes from the developed and economically powerful into the developing and less influential economies, there is, however, a tendency for the system to give the investor an advantage. Regulations that facilitate the investment process are in the investor's interest because these regulations help foreign investors maintain an edge over local competition. However, in 2017, as several countries, including the United States strengthen their protectionist stance on trade, the future of the World Trade Organization remains complex and unclear.
Ads

    Dry Mortar Mix Plant

    en.nflg.com

    One stop shop service for Dry Mortar Mix Plant. Capacity: 10-120 t/h.

Related Articles

    Insights
    The Dark Side Of The WTO
    The World Trade Organization has its share of detractors. Find out why this international entity has such harsh critics.
    Insights
    3 Times the WTO Got It Right This Century
    Learn how the World Trade Organization (WTO) is facilitating landmark trade agreements that benefit both corporations and consumers.
    Insights
    A Brief History of International Trade Agreements
    Since the mercantilist era, world trade has become increasingly multilateral, but since WW2 there has been a definite rise in regional trade agreements.
    Insights
    8 Biggest Global Trade Offenders
    Countries launch protectionist policies to keep domestic producers safe. We list the top eight offenders.
    Investing
    General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
    The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was a treaty created after World War II that regulated world trade in an effort to aide economic recovery.
    Insights
    Robert Lighthizer
    U.S. Trade Representative
    Insights
    Goldman Sachs: Trump Likely to Hit China on Trade
    Goldman Sachs examines how trade tensions between the U.S. and China are likely to play out under the Trump presidency.
    Insights
    Can The IMF Solve Global Economic Problems?
    The IMF is an important tool to help struggling countries, but it's not without its problems.
    Investing
    How Globalization Affects Developed Countries
    The increase in communications technology has companies competing in a global market.
    Insights
    5 Economic Effects Of Country Liberalization
    Liberalization provides new opportunities for diversification and profit.

RELATED FAQS

    Out of which international body did the World Trade Organization emerge?
    On January 1, 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) came into being. The WTO was an outgrowth of the General Agreement ... Read Answer >>
    Which countries have the highest tariffs?
    Find out which countries have the most restrictive import tariffs on international products, based on data collected by the ... Read Answer >>
    Is it possible for a country to have a comparative advantage in everything?
    Learn whether one country can have a comparative advantage in everything and what the difference between comparative advantage ... Read Answer >>
    What is foreign exchange?
    Foreign exchange, or Forex, is the conversion of one country's currency into that of another. In a free economy, a country's ... Read Answer >>
    How does a capital account illustrate the strength of investment markets for a country?
    Understand what a country's capital account is and how the capital account level can be used to gauge the strength of investment ... Read Answer >>

Trending

    The Trump Economy: News and Analysis
    7 Companies Amazon Is Killing
    Announcing the Top 100 Most Influential Financial Advisors
    Which Income Class Are You?
    Investopedia's Guide to Impact Investing

Hot Definitions

    Net Profit Margin
    Gross Margin
    Current Ratio
    SEC Form 13F
    Quantitative Easing
    Risk Averse

    Work With Investopedia
    About Us Advertise With Us Write For Us Contact Us Careers

© 2017, Investopedia, LLC. Feedback All Rights Reserved Terms Of Use Privacy Policy
Post a Comment