The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an
independent international organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, that
sets and maintains the rules of global trade . Representatives from 146
member countries use the WTO framework to negotiate trade agreements, adjudicate
trade disputes, and review national trade policies. By having a standard set of
consistent and enforceable ground rules, international trade can prosper without
facing barriers such as excessive tariffs, unfair regulations, and other
obstacles. Joining the WTO requires countries to negotiate their entry into the
organization, and their entire trade regime is carefully examined. It is not
uncommon for countries to change or adapt their trade policies to be able to
join the WTO. Because WTO members account for 97percent of world trade, countries participating in this freer global trade environment help
expand the world economy and increase their own citizens’ level of prosperity.
Every member country has an equal vote in the
organization's decision-making structure, although to date, every decision made
has been achieved through consensus.
The organization's highest decision-making body,
the Ministerial Conference, must meet every two years, and the Hong Kong meeting is
one of these meetings. Conference participants will make the overall decisions that will set the tone and structure of future negotiations and
The organization's General Council meets
regularly in Geneva to continue negotiations and work on the details of
decisions and negotiations made during Ministerial Conferences, review trade
policies and settle disputes.
The WTO is composed of various committees,
councils, and working groups that report to the General Council.
WTO Web site has an organization chart that
shows the how these groups relate.
The WTO offers a clear system for adjudicating
trade disputes when WTO members believe that they are being adversely affected by other
members who are violating the organization's rules. Typically, members will
first try to resolve these matters between themselves, but if they fail to reach
dispute resolution process can begin.
Dispute resolution is one of the most important
contributions the WTO makes to ensuring greater global trade. By providing a
clear and fair set of rules, adjudication procedures, penalties, and remedies,
the WTO enables its members to trade and negotiate with confidence.