The World Trade Organization addresses global trade rules and interactions between countries.

The WTO aims to develop cross border trade rules that work well to facilitate fair trade activities across the world.

What is the purpose of the World Trade Organization?

The WTO performs the following roles, all aimed at facilitating trade flow across the world:

  1. It acts as a forum for government to hold negotiations related to trade activities
  2. It acts as an platform for countries to resolve disagreements
  3. Provide advise and expertise to member states

The WTO is responsible for several land mark negotiations and agreements, for example the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is one of them.

How does the WTO work?

The WTO is collectively run by the governments of its member states. WTO delegates regularly meet in Geneva. The WTO Secretariat employs about 700 staff, and consist of professionals such as legal counsels, statisticians and economists.

The work of the WTO is heavily dependent on the trade agreements in place between countries.  These agreements usually cover rules concerning trade in goods and services, investments and intellectual property. These deals can include respective country agreements to lower tariff barriers and remove non-tariff barriers. They also have operational procedures that spell out implementation steps and dispute resolution mechanisms. As and when necessary, these agreements can be renegotiated.

Countries can also approach the WTO to resolve any disputes they may have with one another. If such a dispute it brought to the WTO, a decision is made by specially appointed judges. In reality, it must be noted that WTO decisions are difficult to enforce.

WTO also places some focus on aiding developing countries. Agreements usually include extended time allowances for developing countries to catch up to commitments made. The WTO also conducts courses for government officials to build their expertise and skills, so that they may help their countries to better facilitate trade.

How is the WTO structured?

The WTO’s Secretariat has several divisions that is responsible for different areas.

Accessions Division: Facilitates negotiations between WTO members and others requesting accession.

Administration and General Services Division: Provides administrative and general services to the Secretariat and WTO members.

Agriculture and Commodities Division: Handles matters concerning negotiations on agriculture.

Council and Trade Negotiations Committee Division: Provides support to other functions such as the Ministerial Conference and the Dispute Settlement Body.

Development Division: Handles all policy concerns relating to trade development.

Economic Research and Statistics Division: Provides economic analysis and research.

Human Resources Division: Handles human resources management of WTO staff.

Information Technology Solutions Division: Looks after operation of WTO’s information technology (IT) systems.

Information and External Relations Division: In charge of sharing information about the World Trade Organization to the rest of the world.

Institute for Training and Technical Cooperation: Provides technical assistance to WTO members in areas related to trade.

Intellectual Property, Government Procurement and Competition Division: Responsible for intellectual property rights matters and policies.

Languages, Documentation and Information Management Division: Provides language related services such as translation and document research.

Legal Affairs Division: Provides legal advice and counsel to WTO members.

Market Access Division: Assists WTO members to implement agreements.

Office of Internal Oversight: Conducts internal audits and investigations.

Rules Division: Works to ensure the smooth operation of WTO bodies.

Technical Cooperation Audit Division: Responsible for monitoring the technical assistance provided by WTO to members.

Trade and Environment Division: Provides support to committees looking into barriers to trade.

Trade in Services and Investment Division: Provides advice on the GATS, which is the General Agreement on Trade in Services

Trade Policies Review Division: This division provides support to the Director-General and WTO members in several areas.

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