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.