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The World Trade Organization (WTO)


The World Trade Organisation helps to promote free trade by persuading countries to abolish import tariffs and other barriers to open markets. The WTO was established in 1995 and was preceded by another international organisation known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).  Membership of the WTO has expanded to 144 countries with 30 more nations waiting to join. It has evolved into a complex web of agreements covering everything from farm goods and textiles to banking and intellectual property.


The WTO is the only international agency overseeing the rules of international trade. It helps to settle trade disputes between governments.  Advocates of free trade say the gains in economic welfare are substantial. Critics of the WTO say the poor have just got poorer as a result of free trade. They say that the rich countries have maintained protectionist policies, and that poorer countries do not have the type of manufacturing infrastructure and economies of scale to enjoy the benefits of free trade.


Supporters point to the World Bank's view that developing countries will grow twice as fast as industrialized countries in the first decade of the new millennium.  Increasingly, the global economy is being concentrated into enormous trading blocs (e.g., EU and NAFTA) where free trade is encouraged within each bloc, but a range of import controls are established for goods and services entering a trade bloc.




E-mail Steve Margetts