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Home > External Economic & Trade Relations > International Economic & Trade Organizations > World Trade Organization (WTO)

World Trade Organization
(WTO)

Background

The World Trade Organization (WTO) was established on January 1, 1995 as a result of the conclusion of the Uruguay Round negotiations in 1994. The WTO is based in Geneva and headed by a Director-General.

The predecessor of the WTO is the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Both the GATT and WTO aim at reducing tariff and eliminating other trade barriers among Members. The GATT was founded in 1947 with 23 Members and now, the WTO has 159 Members (as at March 2013), contributing to 97 percent of global trade.

The WTO draws up globally binding trade rules to augment the transparency and predictability of international trade.

 

Functions

The main functions of the WTO are:

  • Administering WTO trade agreements
  • Providing forum for trade negotiations
  • Handling trade disputes
  • Monitoring Members’ trade policies
  • Providing technical assistance and training to developing and least developed economies
  • Cooperating with other international organizations

 

Structure

The WTO is an inter-governmental organization. Members make decisions by consensus.

  • Ministerial Conference
    The Ministerial Conference (MC) is the supreme body of the WTO, represented by its Members. The Ministerial Conference, which meets at least once every two years, has the mandate to make decisions on matters within the spectrum of multilateral trade agreements.

    Ministerial Conferences:

    • The Ninth Ministerial Conference, from 3 to 6 December 2013, in Bali, Indonesia
    • The Eighth Ministerial Conference, from 15 to 17 December 2011, in Geneva, Switzerland
    • The Seventh Ministerial Conference, from 30 November to 2 December 2009, in Geneva, Switzerland
    • The Sixth Ministerial Conference, from 13 to 18 December 2005, in Hong Kong, China
    • The Fifth Ministerial Conference, from 10 to 14 September 2003, in Cancún, Mexico
    • The Fourth Ministerial Conference, from 9 to 13 November 2001, in Doha, Qatar
    • The Third Ministerial Conference, from 30 November to 3 December 1999, in Seattle, USA
    • The Second Ministerial Conference, from 18 to 20 May 1998, in Geneva, Switzerland
    • The First Ministerial Conference, from 9 to 13 December 1996, in Singapore

  • General Council
    The General Council (GC), also comprising representatives of WTO Members, meets on a regular basis and acts on behalf of the Ministerial Conference to discuss all WTO related affairs. Under the framework of the Dispute Settlement Understanding and the Trade Policy Review Mechanism, the GC oversees the procedures for settling disputes between Members and analyses Members’ trade policies.
  • Councils
    Three sectoral councils, the Council for Trade in Goods (CTG), the Council for Trade in Services (CTS) and the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) are established under the WTO. These councils have the discretion to establish subsidiary bodies, such as committees and working parties to facilitate their operation.

  • Secretariat
    The WTO Secretariat does not take part in direct negotiations among Members but to provide the necessary administrative support for running the whole system.

 

Agreements

The WTO agreements cover trade in goods, trade in services, and trade-related intellectual property rights, setting out the principles of liberalization, and the exceptions thereof. The agreements also include individual Members’ commitments to lower tariffs, to eliminate  trade barriers, to liberalize and maintain open services markets, and to protect intellectual property rights. In addition, WTO lays down the procedures for settling trade disputes and the special and differential treatment granted to developing and least developed economies. Members are also required to make their trade policies transparent by notifying the WTO about laws in force and measures adopted, while the Secretariat releases regular reports on Members’ trade policies.

 

Trade Policy Review Mechanism

The Trade Policy Review Mechanism, which is one of the important functions of the WTO, aims to increase the transparency of Members’ policy measures and the predictability of international trade. The frequency of Members’ reviews varies according to the trade volume under the multilateral trading system. The Trade Policy Review of Macao takes place every six years. Since the establishment of the WTO, Macao has been reviewed four times, in 1994, 2001, 2007 and 2013.

 

Macao and the WTO

Macao has been a free port since the XIX century. It joined the GATT in 1991, and when the WTO was established in 1995, Macao became a founding Member.

Notwithstanding the resumption of the exercise of sovereignty of Macao by the Peoples’ Republic of China in 1999, Macao’s WTO Member status remained unchanged. This is due to the fact that under the principle of “one country, two systems”, Macao and the Mainland are two independent customs territories. Furthermore, it is also stipulated in the “Basic Law” that Macao shall continuously effectuate its free trade policy with freedom in the movement of goods, intangible assets and capital.

With a solid legal framework, Macao continues to be a highly open economy against periods of social development. We shall strive to create an enabling investment environment, increase the transparency in trade policy in respect of the principles of the multilateral trading system advocated by the WTO.

 

Web link: http://www.wto.org/

 

Last updated: 2014-03-05