The World Trade Organization (WTO) started its activities
on January 1st, 1995 and since then it has acted as the main institution for administrating the multilateral trading system. The Organization's objective is to establish a common institutional framework for regulating the commercial relations among its members, establishing a mechanism for a pacific settlement of commercial disputes, based on the trade agreements currently in force, and creating an environment which promotes and set standards for the negotiation of new trade agreements among its members. Currently, the WTO has 164 members, and Brazil is one of its founding members. The WTO’s headquarters is located in Geneva (Switzerland), and the three official languages of the Organization are English, French and Spanish.
The origins of the WTO date back to the signature, in 1947, of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a mechanism that was responsible, from 1948 to 1994, for the creation and management of the rules of the multilateral trading system. In the context of GATT, eight trade negotiation rounds were held, with the objective of promoting the progressive reduction of the tariffs and other barriers to trade. The eighth round, known as Uruguay Round, culminated in the creation of the WTO and a new set of multilateral agreements that formed the normative body of the new Organization.
The WTO inherited from GATT a set of principles that ground the trade multilateral regulation, most notably:
- the most-favored-nation (MFN), according to which a WTO member shall extend to all its trading partners any concession, benefit or privilege granted to another member;
- the national treatment, under which an imported product or service should receive the same treatment as that of a like domestic product or service, when it enters the territory of the importing member;
- the binding of commitments , according to which a member shall offer to the others treatment not less favorable than the one established on its schedule of commitments; and
- transparency, under which the members shall publish the laws, regulations and decisions of general application related to the international trade, in order that they are widely known by their addressees.
The WTO is comprised of several bodies, the main ones being:
- the Ministerial Conference, the Organization’s highest decision-making body, comprised of the members’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs or Foreign Trade;
- the General Council, consisting of the members’ permanent representatives in Geneva, which meets alternatively as the Disputes Settlement Body and as the Trade Policy Review Body;
- the Council for Trade in Goods;
- the Council for Trade in Services;
- the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights;
- several Committees, including Access to Markets, Agriculture and Subsidies; and
- the Secretariat, whose purpose is to support the activities of the Organization and which consists of around 700 employees, headed by the WTO’s Director-General. The position is currently occupied by Ambassador Roberto Azevêdo.
To date, eleven WTO’s Ministerial Conferences were held, including: Singapore (1996), Geneva (1998), Seattle (1999), Doha (2001), Cancun (2003), Hong Kong (2005), Geneva (2009 and 2011), Bali (2013), Nairobi (2015) and Buenos Aires (2017).
Among those, one of special relevance is the Ministerial Conference in Doha, which established the mandate for the launch of the Doha Round – the first negotiation round initiated in the WTO – whose negotiations are still under way.