The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments.
T he Uruguay Round agreements are the basis of the present WTO system. Additional work is also now underway in the WTO. This is the result of decisions taken at Ministerial Conferences, in particular the meeting in Doha, November 2001, when new negotiations and other work were launched.
The table of contents of “The Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations: The Legal Texts” is a daunting list of about 60 agreements, annexes, decisions and understandings. In fact, the agreements fall into a simple structure with six main parts: an umbrella agreement (the Agreement Establishing the WTO); agreements for each of the three broad areas of trade that the WTO covers (goods, services and intellectual property); dispute settlement; and reviews of governments’ trade policies.
The agreements for the two largest areas — goods and services — share a common three-part outline, even though the detail is sometimes quite different.
Underpinning these are dispute settlement, which is based on the agreements and commitments, and trade policy reviews, an exercise in transparency.
Much of the Uruguay Round dealt with the first two parts: general principles and principles for specific sectors. At the same time, market access negotiations were possible for industrial goods. Once the principles had been worked out, negotiations could proceed on the commitments for sectors such as agriculture and services.
Another group of agreements not included in the diagram is also important: the two “plurilateral” agreements not signed by all members: civil aircraft and government procurement.