World Trade Organization (WTO)
The WTO is the principal international institution for the management of international trade. It was created at the Uruguay Round of trade talks in 1994, when it was agreed to transform the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) into a permanent institution. The Uruguay Round was a round of GATT negotiations started in Uruguay in 1986 and designed to promote free trade. It was the origin of the WTO and a range of multilateral agreements. It currently has 146 Member States. The WTO is responsible for:
- Providing a forum for trade negotiations
- Handling trade disputes
- Monitoring national trade policies.
The WTO also administers WTO agreements, provides technical assistance to developing countries and cooperates with other international bodies on trade issues.
The WTO is the only organization that can enforce its own rules - which makes it an extremely powerful organization. The WTO dispute settlement system is used when countries differ in their interpretation of the WTO agreement. If two or more states have a dispute over, for example, a health-related trade measure, they have the right to invoke the WTO dispute settlement process. The WTO cannot itself prosecute a member: it is up to the countries involved to bring the dispute to the WTO. Only the complainant can argue the case and only if it relates to WTO agreements or commitments. What makes the WTO unique is that sanctions can be imposed by the WTO against countries that lose a case in this procedure. For example, a complainant may be allowed to impose import tariffs on products from the offending country to a certain value equal to the compensation decided by the WTO.
The main pillars of the WTO are the multilateral trade agreements, including the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property rights (TRIPS). These agreements do contain some provisions for the protection of public health and safety but they remain controversial.
In theory, all members have an equal voice in the consensus decision-making process. However, in practice the wealthier nations dominate. With the acceleration of free trade, many believe it is imperative that the WTO serves to accelerate world economic activity. However, others are concerned that this should not be done without reference to the social and cultural consequences, particularly in terms of the marginalization of vulnerable groups.
This table shows specific health issues and most relevant WTO agreements.
|•Infectious disease control||*||*|
|•Access to drugs||*|
See also: Global democracy deficit, Doha, food safety, food security, health, parallel imports, sovereignty, technical barriers to trade.
- Global Democracy Deficit
- Food Safety
- Food Security
- Parallel Imports
- Technical Barriers to Trade (Agreement on)
- Vulnerable Groups
- Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)
- General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)
- Multilateral Trade Agreements (MTAs)
- Public Health