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The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. One of the youngest of the international organizations, the WTO is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) established in the wake of the Second World War. So while the WTO is still young, the multilateral trading system that was originally set up under GATT is well over 50 years old.

The past 50 years have seen an exceptional growth in world trade. Merchandise exports grew on average by 6% annually. Total trade in 2000 was 22-times the level of 1950. GATT and the WTO have helped to create a strong and prosperous trading system contributing to unprecedented growth.

Facts about the WTO

Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Established: 1 January 1995
Created by
: Uruguay Round negotiations (1986-94)
: 161 countries on 26 April 2015
: 197 million Swiss francs for 2013
Secretariat staff
: 640
: Roberto Azevêdo (Director-General)

  • Administering WTO trade agreements
  •  Forum for trade negotiations
  •  Handling trade disputes
  •  Monitoring national trade policies
  • Technical assistance and training for developing countries
  • Cooperation with other international organizations


The WTO has nearly 160 members, accounting for over 95% of world trade. Around 25 others are negotiating membership.
Decisions are made by the entire membership. This is typically by consensus. The WTO’s agreements have been ratified in all members’ parliaments.
The WTO’s top level decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference which meets at least once every two years.
Below this is the General Council (normally ambassadors and heads of delegation in Geneva, but sometimes officials sent from members’ capitals) which meets several times a year in the Geneva headquarters. The General Council also meets as the Trade Policy Review Body and the Dispute Settlement Body.
At the next level, the Goods Council, Services Council and Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Council report to the General Council.
Numerous specialized committees, working groups and working parties deal with the individual agreements and other areas such as the environment, development, membership applications and regional trade agreements.
See organigram.

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