World Trade Organization

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and it aims to oversee and liberalize international trade. The issues it focuses on mostly derive from the Uruguay Round, and the current Doha Round that forms its agenda focuses on agricultural development.

Although the WTO defines itself to be a simple successor of GATT, there are major differences between the GATT and the WTO inherent in the transition process. The GATT was founded on provisional structures, and both entrance and exit to the treaty rounds was easy as there was no formalized agreement. However, in the 70s, the developing countries started to oppose to the agenda set by the developed countries, and given the period of the Cold War the developed countries had to "cave in" to prevent these countries from falling into Soviet-type regimes; a typical reaction by the US in this period. However, when the Soviet regime collapsed, the developing countries lost their bargaining power; and the US/European Commission withdrew from the GATT and formed WTO, imposing their demands and clauses on these countries which could not afford to lose trade with them. An important aspect of these treaties is the protection of intellectual rights/copyrights. There is also a dispute settlement board.[1]

The WTO, like the GATT, makes decisions by consensus, and each country has one vote. Although this sounds fair, making it seem like the developing countries have an equal share in the decision making process, the reality is far from that. In practice, the developed countries set the agenda for the others to follow. This is basically still the "selective nuclear multilateral-bilateral approach" that Canada proposed during the genesis of the GATT. Those countries that have a say in the agenda are said to have "access to the Green Room", because they are invited to the "selective nuclear multilateral" discussions. Following the finalization of the agenda, the developed countries present the agenda to the rest of the group, who essentially have little say. So, it is the developed countries that have the bargaining power, and they can threaten to create a regime that serves their own interests if the developing countries oppose to it. To quote professor Morrison, they can "take their football and go home". 

However, this does not mean that the developing countries are always exploited and have no bargaining power; the latest Doha rounds are specifically geared towards development, and the focus has been on the liberalization of agriculture, which would greatly benefit developing countries but is heavily subsidized in both the EU and the US. These rounds are far from being concluded, and there are two choices that the developing world can make; reconciliation or pushing developing countries to agree upon the developed countries' goals.


  1. Barton, John H. The Evolution of the Trade Regime: Politics, Law, and Economics of the GATT and the WTO. Princeton (N.J.): Princeton UP, 2006. Print.