The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is an international body dealing with international trade policy and the rules of trade between nations at a global or near-global (multilateral) level. Its primary aim is the promotion of free trade, through encouraging countries to remove barriers to trade such as tariffs.
The WTO was set up in 1995, replacing the previous organisation known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). GATT was established in 1948 by the agreement of the same name. The WTO has a much broader scope than GATT, which was confined to the regulation of trade in goods, whereas WTO covers all types of international trade, including services, inventions, designs, telecommunications, and banking, as well as related issues such as intellectual property.
The WTO (and previously GATT) has produced a great body of international trade law or trade rules. These international trade rules have evolved through several rounds of negotiations. The creation of the WTO came out of the Uruguay Round of negotiations (1986 to 1994).
At present, there are 151 member states. This means that the WTO agreements are negotiated and signed by most of the worlds trading countries. The WTO agreements therefore form the legal ground-rules for international trade and commerce globally. The agreements bind governments to maintain their trade policies as specified by the WTO. This in turn helps those private individuals and companies involved in international trade, including manufacturers, importers and exporters. An international trade lawyer can explain how the WTO agreements affect your business.
There are three major WTO agreements of interest to most businesses. These are:
These not only set out international trade rules, but also cover procedures for settling disputes. Most of these principles apply to disputes between governing bodies. Disputes between private individuals are more readily addressed by the UNCITRAL Conciliation and Arbitration Rules. An international trade solicitor can give you advice as to whether this might be suitable for your commercial dispute.