WTO Articles of Agreement and Beyond
The WTO came into existence on 1 January 1995. Its charter is entirely institutional and procedural; it draws upon the GATT and its Uruguay Round resolutions in its Annexes for compliance. The WTO is not a mere replacement or succession of the GATT. The WTO Agreement under the Uruguay Round of GATT Trade negotiations provides a 'common institutional framework for the conduct of trade relations among its members' (Article II of the Agreement). The new institution upgraded several working arrangements and rules with considerable clarity, as in the case of dispute resolution, adoption of resolutions and voiding veto powers for members. Some of the 'birth defects' of the GATT were modified in the WTO. The WTO Charter XVI.1 states clearly that GATT's decisions, procedures and customary practices will be guiding principles to the extent feasible. The WTO budget was estimated ( Blackhurst, 1998) at an equivalent of about 10 minutes of the value of the world merchandise trade in mid-1990s.
The WTO remains a rather unique intergovernmental institution governed mainly by a contract between its members. Unlike the GATT, the member countries are not simply 'contracting parties', and the organization is governed by a treaty set up rather than as a 'provisional' organization. The WTO does not describe itself as a 'free trade' institution. Rather, it prefers to be described as a 'system of rules dedicated to open, fair and undistorted competition' ( WTO, 1998).