The World Trade Organization (WTO) - Activities

A. Reviewing Member Nations' Trade Policies

Surveillance of the national trade policies of WTO member nations is a fundamentally important activity running throughout the work of the WTO. At the center of this work is the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM).

Reviews are conducted on a regular, periodic basis. The four biggest traders—the European Union, the United States, Japan and Canada—are examined approximately once every two years. The next 16 countries in terms of their share of world trade are reviewed every four years; and the remaining countries every six years, with the possibility of a longer interim period for the least-developed countries.

The review examines the overall trading practices of a WTO member rather than focusing on the legal compatibility of any particular trade policy or practice.

Reviews are conducted in the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB)—established at the same level as the General Council. The TPRB conducts its review through the use of two documents: a policy statement prepared by the government under review, and a detailed report prepared independently by the WTO Secretariat. These two reports, together with the proceedings of the TPRB are published after the review meeting.

In addition to the TPRM, many other WTO agreements contain obligations for member governments to notify the WTO Secretariat of new or modified trade measures. For example, details of any new anti-dumping or countervailing legislation, new technical standards affecting trade, changes to regulations affecting trade in services, and laws or regulations concerning the TRIPs agreement all have to be notified to the appropriate body of the WTO. Special groups are also established to examine new free-trade arrangements (e.g. regional trade associations like NAFTA—The North American Free Trade Agreement) and the trade policies of acceding countries.

In 2000, new talks began on agriculture and services. At the WHO's Fourth Ministerial Conference held during November 2001 in Doha, Qatar, these talks were extended, and a number of other issues were added to the WTO agenda. The Doha Declaration sets 1 January 2005 as the date for completing all but two of the negotiations. Negotiations on the Dispute Settlement Understanding are to end in May 2003; those on a register of geographical indications for wines and spirits, by the Ministerial Conference in 2003. Progress is to be reviewed at the Fifth Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003. A Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) was also set up by the Doha Declaration, operating under the authority of the General Council.

B. Settling Trade Disputes

The WTO also functions to settle trade disputes between member nations. Indeed, one of the goals of the WTO is to dissuade members from taking unilateral action against perceived violations of the trade rules and to instead seek recourse in the multilateral dispute settlement system and to abide by its rules and findings. Unlike the situation in a TPRM review, where a nation's overall trade policy is examined, a trade dispute between member nations usually involves the legality of a particular trade policy or practice. Which one member nation, the complainant, has called into question.

When any such trade dispute arises, the nations party to the dispute first engage in bilateral meetings between themselves (usually conducted by the nations' respective representatives in Geneva). If this fails the WTO Director-General, who, acting in an ex officio capacity, will try conciliation or mediation to settle the dispute.

If consultations and mediation fail to arrive at a solution after 60 days, the complainant can ask the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) to establish a panel to examine the case. Generally, the DSB cannot refuse to establish a panel and must constitute the panel within 30 days of its establishment.

Each party to the dispute submits to the panel a brief on the facts and arguments in the case, in advance of the first substantive meeting. At that first meeting, the complainant presents its case and the responding party its defense. Third parties which notified their interest in the dispute may also present views. Formal rebuttals are made at the second substantive meeting.

The panel then submits an interim report, including its findings and conclusions, to the parties, giving them one week to request a review. The period of review is not to exceed two weeks, during which the panel may hold additional meetings with the parties. A final report is submitted to the parties and three weeks later, it is circulated to all WTO members.

If the panel decides that the measure in question is inconsistent with the terms of the relevant WTO agreement, the panel recommends that the member concerned bring the measure into conformity with that agreement. It may also suggest ways in which the member could implement the recommendation. Panel reports are adopted by the DSB 60 days after being issued, unless one party notifies its decision to appeal or a consensus emerges against the adoption of the report.

The WTO dispute settlement mechanism gives the possibility of appeal to either party in a panel proceeding. However, any such appeal must be limited to issues of law covered in the panel report and the legal interpretation developed by the panel. Appeals are heard by the standing Appellate Body established by the DSB.

An Appellate Body can uphold, modify or reverse the legal findings and conclusions of the panel. As a general rule, the appeal proceedings are not to exceed 60 days but in no case shall they exceed 90 days.

Thirty days after it is issued, the DSB adopts the report of the Appellate Body which is unconditionally accepted by the parties to the dispute—unless there is a consensus against its adoption.

After the DSB adopts the report of the panel or the Appellate Body, the DSB has the responsibility of implementing the decision. At a DSB meeting held within 30 days of the adoption of the panel or appellate report, the party against whom the panel or the Appellate Body has ruled, must state its intentions in respect of the implementation of the recommendations. If it is impractical to

The World Trade Organization (WTO)

(as of 1 January 2002)
Member/Date of Membership
Albania 8 September 2000
Angola 1 December 1996
Antigua and Barbuda 1 January 1995
Argentina 1 January 1995
Australia 1 January 1995
Austria 1 January 1995
Bahrain 1 January 1995
Bangladesh 1 January 1995
Barbados 1 January 1995
Belgium 1 January 1995
Belize 1 January 1995
Benin 22 February 1996
Bolivia 13 September 1995
Botswana 31 May 1995
Brazil 1 January 1995
Brunei Darussalam 1 January 1995
Bulgaria 1 December 1996
Burkina Faso 3 June 1995
Burundi 23 July 1995
Cameroon 13 December 1995
Canada 1 January 1995
Central African Republic 31 May 1995
Chad 19 October 1996
Chile 1 January 1995
China 11 December 2001
Colombia 30 April 1995
Congo 27 March 1997
Costa Rica 1 January 1995
Cþte dņIvoire 1 January 1995
Croatia 30 November 2000
Cuba 20 April 1995
Cyprus 30 July 1995
Czech Republic 1 January 1995
Democratic Republic of the Congo 1 January 1997
Denmark 1 January 1995
Djibouti 31 May 1995
Dominica 1 January 1995
Dominican Republic 9 March 1995
Ecuador 21 January 1996
Egypt 30 June 1995
El Salvador 7 May 1995
Estonia 13 November 1999
European Communities 1 January 1995
Fiji 14 January 1996
Finland 1 January 1995
France 1 January 1995
Gabon 1 January 1995
Gambia 23 October 1996
Georgia 14 June 2000
Germany 1 January 1995
Ghana 1 January 1995
Greece 1 January 1995
Grenada 22 February 1996
Guatemala 21 July 1995
Guinea 25 October 1995
Guinea Bissau 31 May 1995
Guyana 1 January 1995
Haiti 30 January 1996
Honduras 1 January 1995
Hong Kong, China 1 January 1995
Hungary 1 January 1995
Iceland 1 January 1995
India 1 January 1995
Indonesia 1 January 1995
Ireland 1 January 1995
Israel 21 April 1995
Italy 1 January 1995
Jamaica 9 March 1995
Japan 1 January 1995
Jordan 11 April 2000
Kenya 1 January 1995
Korea, Republic of 1 January 1995
Kuwait 1 January 1995
Kyrgyz Republic 20 December 1998
Latvia 10 February 1999
Lesotho 31 May 1995
Liechtenstein 1 September 1995
Lithuania 31 May 2001
Luxembourg 1 January 1995
Macau, China 1 January 1995
Madagascar 17 November 1995
Malawi 31 May 1995
Malaysia 1 January 1995
Maldives 31 May 1995
Mali 31 May 1995
Malta 1 January 1995
Mauritania 31 May 1995
Mauritius 1 January 1995
Mexico 1 January 1995
Moldova, Republic of 16 July 2001
Mongolia 29 January 1997
Morocco 1 January 1995
Mozambique 26 August 1995
Myanmar 1 January 1995
Namibia 1 January 1995
Netherlands 1 January 1995
New Zealand 1 January 1995
Nicaragua 3 September 1995
Niger 13 December 1996
Nigeria 1 January 1995
Norway 1 January 1995
Oman 9 November 2000
Pakistan 1 January 1995
Panama 6 September 1997
Papua New Guinea 9 June 1996
Paraguay 1 January 1995
Peru 1 January 1995
Philippines 1 January 1995
Poland 1 July 1995
Portugal 1 January 1995
Qatar 13 January 1996
Romania 1 January 1995
Rwanda 22 May 1996
Saint Kitts and Nevis 21 February 1996
Saint Lucia 1 January 1995
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1 January 1995
Senegal 1 January 1995
Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu 1 January 2002
Sierra Leone 23 July 1995
Singapore 1 January 1995
Slovak Republic 1 January 1995
Slovenia 30 July 1995
Solomon Islands 26 July 1996
South Africa 1 January 1995
Spain 1 January 1995
Sri Lanka 1 January 1995
Suriname 1 January 1995
Swaziland 1 January 1995
Sweden 1 January 1995
Switzerland 1 July 1995
Tanzania 1 January 1995
Thailand 1 January 1995
Togo 31 May 1995
Trinidad and Tobago 1 March 1995
Tunisia 29 March 1995
Turkey 26 March 1995
Uganda 1 January 1995
United Arab Emirates 10 April 1996
United Kingdom 1 January 1995
United States 1 January 1995
Uruguay 1 January 1995
Venezuela 1 January 1995
Zambia 1 January 1995
Zimbabwe 3 March 1995

comply immediately, the member will be given a grace period (set by the DSB) to come into compliance. If it fails to act within this period, it is obliged to enter into negotiations with the complainant in order to determine a mutually-acceptable compensation—for instance, tariff reductions in areas of particular interest to the complainant.

If after 20 days, no satisfactory compensation is agreed, the complainant may request authorization from the DSB to suspend concessions or obligations against the other party. The DSB should grant this authorization within 30 days of the expiration of the grace period established by the DSB.

There is a peculiar component of the WTO structure, the Dispute Settlement Review Commission, that applies solely to the United States. The commission is composed of five appellate judges and is activated whenever a panel decision is made against the US. The commission analyzes the decision to determine whether it was unjustified, that is whether the panel exceeded its authority in making the decision or whether the panel went beyond the powers in the Uruguay round in making the decision. If the commission determines that three unjustified decisions occurred within any five year period a member of Congress can begin the process of removing the US from the WTO. It should be noted that since any member can withdraw at any time from the WTO, the existence of this commission does not explicitly enhance US power in the WTO. It was created primarily as a mechanism to assure the US Congress that the WTO would monitor itself against any anti-US bias and in fact the commission was established within the WTO to secure the support of Senator Robert Dole for US entry into the WTO.

C. Training and Technical Instruction to Developing Countries

The WTO Secretariat has also continued GATT's program of training courses. These take place in Geneva twice a year for officials of developing countries. Since their inception in 1955 and up to the end of 1994, the courses have been attended by nearly 1400 trade officials from 125 countries and 10 regional organizations. Beginning in 1991, special courses have been held each year in Geneva for officials from the former centrally-planned economies in transition to market economies.

The WTO Secretariat, alone or in cooperation with other international organizations, conducts missions and seminars and provides specific, practical technical cooperation for governments and their officials dealing with accession negotiations, implementing WTO commitments or seeking to participate effectively in multilateral negotiations. Courses and individual assistance is given on particular WTO activities including dispute settlement and trade policy reviews. Moreover, developing countries, especially the least-developed among them, are helped with trade and tariff data relating to their own export interests and to their participation in WTO bodies.

The WTO continues the GATT's participation in operating the International Trade Center (which it operates jointly with World Bank's Economic Development Institute). The Center responds to requests from developing countries for assistance in formulating and implementing export promotion programs as well as import operations and techniques. It provides information and advice on export markets and marketing techniques, and assists in establishing export promotion and marketing services and in training personnel required for these services. The Center's help is freely available to the least-developed countries. Since the beginning, GATT/WHO has trained more than 1,700 officials from developing countries.

D. Participation in Global Economic Policy-Making

An important aspect of the WTO's mandate is to cooperate with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions to achieve greater coherence in global economic policy-making.

Although the original agenda (established at a GATT meeting in Punta del Este, Uruguay in 1986) made no mention of a world trade body, a draft for such an organization was put forth in 1991 and quickly gained interest among many members for establishing such an organization.

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