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The WTO Agreements

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.

  1. They start with broad principles: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) (for goods), and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). (The third area, Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), also falls into this category although at present it has no additional parts.)
  2. Then come extra agreements and annexes dealing with the special requirements of specific sectors or issues.
  3. Finally, there are the detailed and lengthy schedules (or lists) of commitments made by individual countries allowing specific foreign products or service-providers access to their markets. For GATT, these take the form of binding commitments on tariffs for goods in general, and combinations of tariffs and quotas for some agricultural goods. For GATS, the commitments state how much access foreign service providers are allowed for specific sectors, and they include lists of types of services where individual countries say they are not applying the “most-favoured-nation” principle of non-discrimination.

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.


Umbrella

AGREEMENT ESTABLISHING WTO

 

Goods

Services

Intellectual propert y

Basic principles

GATT

GATS

TRIPS

Additional details

Other goods agreements and annexes

Services annexes

 

Market access commitments

Countries’ schedules of commitments

Countries’ schedules of commitments(and MFN exemptions)

 

Dispute settlement

DISPUTE SETTLEMENT

Transparency

TRADE POLICY REVIEWS


Additional agreements

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.





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