World Trade Organization

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the "only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world's trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business."[1]


The WTO, established January 1, 1994, is located in Geneva, Switzerland. It was created by the Uruguay Round negotiations (1986-94) and, as of July 27, 2007 has a membership of 151 countries and a Secretariat staff of 550. The WTO budget is 177 million Swiss francs (2007).[1] The current head of the WTO is Pascal Lamy Biodatai (Director-General).[2].

The functions of the WTO are:

  • Administering WTO trade agreements
  • Forum for trade negotiations
  • Handling trade disputes
  • Monitoring national trade policies
  • Technical assistance and training for developing countries
  • Cooperation with other international organizations


  • Organizational Chart.
  • General Council: "The General Council is the WTO's highest-level decision-making body in Geneva, meeting regularly to carry out the functions of the WTO. It has representatives (usually ambassadors or equivalent) from all member governments and has the authority to act on behalf of the ministerial conference which only meets about every two years. The current chairperson is Ambassador Shotaro Oshima (Japan). The General Council also meets, under different rules, as the Dispute Settlement Body and as the Trade Policy Review Body."
  • Ministerial Conference: "The topmost decision-making body of the WTO is the Ministerial Conference, which has to meet at least every two years. It brings together all members of the WTO, all of which are countries or customs unions. The Ministerial Conference can take decisions on all matters under any of the multilateral trade agreements."
  • Dispute Settlement Body: "The WTO's procedure for resolving trade quarrels under the Dispute Settlement Understanding is vital for enforcing the rules and therefore for ensuring that trade flows smoothly. ... A dispute arises when a member government believes another member government is violating an agreement or a commitment that it has made in the WTO. The authors of these agreements are the member governments themselves -- the agreements are the outcome of negotiations among members. Ultimate responsibility for settling disputes also lies with member governments, through the Dispute Settlement Body." Index of Disputes Issues.
  • Trade Policy Review Body.


  • The WTO is among the most democratic of the multilateral organizations. It operates on the basis of one country, one vote, and - unlike the UN - no member has the right to a veto. In practice, however, the US, Japan, and the advanced nations of Europe tend to control the agenda and overpower developing nations with skilled trade experts and superior negotiating tactics. While Brazil and China have cultivated expertise of their own, many other developing countries are too poor to afford effective representation at the WTO.—Patrick Smith, Special to The Christian Science Monitor, September 2003.

Contact Information

World Trade Organization
rue de Lausanne 154
CH-1211 Geneva 21
Tel: (41-22) 739 51 11
Fax: (41-22) 731 42 06
Email: enquiries AT

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. WTO Secretariat budget for 2007, WTO, accessed April 2008.
  2. The Secretariat, WTO, accessed April 2008.

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