World Trade Organization

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

World Trade Organization

World Trade Organization (WTO), international organization established in 1995 as a result of the final round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations, called the Uruguay Round. The WTO is responsible for monitoring national trading policies, handling trade disputes, and enforcing the GATT agreements, which are designed to reduce tariffs and other barriers to international trade and to eliminate discriminatory treatment in international commerce. In an effort to promote international agreements, WTO negotiations are conducted in closed sessions; many outsiders have strongly criticized such meetings as antidemocratic. Unlike GATT, the WTO is a permanent body but not a specialized agency of the United Nations; it has far greater power to mediate trade disputes between member countries and assess penalties. In the Uruguay Round, agreement was reached to reduce tariffs on manufactured goods by one third. Under the WTO, subsidies and quotas are to be reduced on imported farm products, automobiles, and textiles, which were not covered by GATT; there is also freer trade in banking and other services and greater worldwide protection of intellectual property. Negotiations to eliminate subsidies and protections for agricultural products, however, have proved to be a stumbling block. The Doha Round of talks, launched in 2001, have been deadlocked over such subsidies; the round was originally scheduled to be finished in Jan., 2005. The WTO is headquartered in Geneva and also holds international ministerial conferences; it has 159 members.

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