The World Trade Organization (WTO) was created after the Marrakesh Agreement of 15 April 1994 entered into force on 1 January 1995.
It aims to promote a multilateral trading system that is non-discriminatory, open, transparent and fair as well as to pursue the liberalization of trade and the opening of markets by providing a framework for trade negotiations, administrating WTO agreements and settling trade disputes in the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB).
The WTO Secretariat is headquartered in Geneva. It has approximately 650 permanent staff, led by Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, who succeeded Pascal Lamy in 2013.
Countries make decisions in some 65 councils, committees and working groups made up of representatives of all members.
The topmost body is the Ministerial Conference which, under WTO rules, meets at least every two years. The Ministerial Conference is authorized to take decisions on all questions regarding multilateral trade agreements.
The General Council acts on behalf of the Ministerial Conference with regard to all WTO-related matters. It meets as the Dispute Settlement Body and as the Trade Policy Review Body for supervising the implementation of procedures to settle disputes between members or to analyze their trade policies.
The Dispute Settlement Body is responsible for dealing with disputes between WTO members. It convenes at least once per month to review and adopt panel and Appellate Body reports and to take any necessary administrative measures regarding the settlement of disputes.
The Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB) undertakes trade policy reviews of members based on a policy statement presented by the member under review and on a report by the WTO Secretariat’s economists. WTO members regularly undergo reviews, with varying frequency based on their share of global trade.
All sixty subsidiary bodies are under the direct authority of the General Council, or one of the four pillars: the Council for Trade in Goods, the Council for Trade in Services, the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and lastly the Trade Negotiations Committee.
France supports the WTO-based multilateral system, which is key to enforcing common rules and fair competition between trade partners. By actively participating in the dispute settlement process and in the surveillance of protectionist practices, France and the European Union protect businesses from unfair practices in order to preserve the conditions for fair competition in international trade.
On 30 May 2018, the President of the French Republic announced at the OECD that France wanted the WTO to be modernized in order to effectively tackle the root causes of certain imbalances in the current trading system and to face the challenges of the 21st century, first and foremost the fight against climate change.
In June 2018, the European Council mandated the European Commission to suggest areas in which the WTO could be reformed. The reform supported by France and the European Union has three main themes which have been highlighted in ongoing discussions:
- Relaunch the institution’s ability to draw up new rules in order to adapt them to the challenges of the 21st century;
- Improve the WTO’s daily operations to ensure better monitoring of members’ policies and more transparent trade practices;
- Reform the Dispute Settlement Body.
Updated: March 2019