World Trade Organisation (WTO)
The WTO is a Multilateral rules-based organization which provides for an open, secure, transparent, equitable and predictable environment for world trade. From 1948 to 1994, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) provided the rules for much of world trade and presided over periods that saw some of the highest growth rates in international commerce. It seemed well-established, but throughout those 47 years, it was a provisional agreement and organization. The WTO’s creation on 1 January 1995 marked the biggest reform of international trade since and after the Second World War. It also brought to reality in an updated form the failed attempt in 1948 to create an International Trade Organization.While evolving and coping with the changing trade landscape. The WTO is currently facing significant and unprecedented challenges in its almost 25-year history. These challenges stem from unilateral trade action that is ushering in protectionism and new trade tensions which are threatening the multilateral trading rules of the WTO. A weak rules-based multilateral trading system and a protectionist global trade environment is detrimental to the prosperity of the world economy, and especially so to developing countries – including small developing economies like the Pacific countries that depend on open markets to increase their trade and generate economic growth to fulfil their national sustainable development plans and the 2030 SDGs Agenda.
The WTO MC12, a biennial meeting to take decisions on new global trading rules and new mandates, and the MC12 could be one of the most challenging WTO Ministerial Conferences due to the current global divergences in the multilateral trade landscape and within the WTO itself. It is so far the only global organization mandated with rules of trade between nations. The organization primarily handles WTO agreements that have been signed by nations and ratified in their national parliaments for those that have a dualist legal system. Its primary purpose is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible- Trade Liberalization.
Additionally, it is the main forum for negotiating trade agreements and has a well-established Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) which operates on clearly defined rules, with timetables for completing a case. Rulings in the DSB are made by a panel and endorsed (or rejected) by the WTO’s full membership, the DSB also has an appellate jurisdiction which handles disputes based on points of law and not facts. The goal of the DSB is to encourage consultations amongst aggrieved members, however there are instances in which disputes have reached a full panel process(litigation), for instance, in January 2008, about 136 out of 369 disputes reached the full panel process. Other than this, most of the disputes have either been notified as settled ‘ out of court’ or remain in a prolonged consultation process.
Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization
The Parties to this Agreement,
Recognizing that their relations in the field of trade and economic endeavour should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand, and expanding the production of and trade in goods and services, while allowing for the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, seeking both to protect and preserve the environment and to enhance the means for doing so in a manner consistent with their respective needs and concerns at different levels of economic development,
Recognizing further that there is need for positive efforts designed to ensure that developing countries, and especially the least developed among them, secure a share in the growth in international trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development,
Being desirous of contributing to these objectives by entering into reciprocal and mutually advantageous arrangements directed to the substantial reduction of tariffs and other barriers to trade and to the elimination of discriminatory treatment in international trade relations,
Resolved, therefore, to develop an integrated, more viable and durable multilateral trading system encompassing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the results of past trade liberalization efforts, and all of the results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations,
Determined to preserve the basic principles and to further the objectives underlying this multilateral trading system,
Please Find Full Agreement HERE, visit: https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/04-wto_e.htm#articleI
As of 29 July 2016, the WTO has 164 members, out of which 6 Forum Island Countries (FICs) are full members- Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. Fiji and the Solomon Islands are the only two FICs with Geneva-based Permanent Missions to the WTO. Non-resident FIC WTO members are represented by their accredited Embassies/Missions based in Brussels or London or by capital-based officials.
Emerging Issues under WTO
Treatment of Medical Products in Regional Trade Agreements
The WTO Secretariat published a report on the treatment of medical products in regional trade agreements (RTAs) amid current supply shortages caused by the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic which examines the extent by which medical products are traded among preferential partners and the difference in liberalization rates within and outside these trade agreements.
The world’s top ten exporters of medical products ship 27-77 per cent of these goods to their RTA partners according to reports by the WTO. WTO members have also eliminated tariffs on over 84 per cent of medical products for 2020 under their various RTAs. Moreover, medical products face an average tariff of 1.6 per cent within RTAs as compared to the 3.8 per cent average tariff for medical products traded outside RTAs, suggesting room for further trade liberalization at the WTO.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the need for greater cooperation and efforts to reduce barriers to trade, including through increased mutual recognition agreements (MRAs).
Ministerial Declarations and Decisions
This section lists the Ministerial Declarations and Decisions taken since the WTO was founded in 1995.
In general, Ministerial Conferences are the WTO’s highest decision-making body, meeting at least once every two years and providing political direction for the organization.
All Ministerial Declarations and Decisions can be found at the following link: https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/min_declaration_e.htm
WTO Ministerial Conferences: Key Outcomes can be found at the following link: https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/publications_e/mc_outcomes_e.htm
The Trade Facilitation Agreement
The Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), entered into force on 22 February 2017, when two-thirds of the 164 WTO members ratified it. The TFA – the first multilateral pact WTO members had agreed since it was founded on 1 January 1995 – represents a significant milestone for the global trading system.
The TFA aims to expedite trade procedures, including the movement, release, and clearance of goods. Its full implementation could boost global trade by $1 trillion per year, cutting trade costs down by 14.3% for low-income countries and more than 13% for upper-middle-income countries.
Excerpt Source: UNCTAD, “The World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement at two: Where do members stand?”, Written by Pamela UGAZ, Economic Affairs Officer, 22 February 2019
The Trade Facilitation Agreement can be found HERE.