World Trade Organisation (WTO)

HISTORY AND PRESENT STATUS

The WTO is the only international body dealing with the rules of trade between nations. It was established on 1 January 1995, based on a trading system dating back to the end of the Second World War. Since 1948 the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) had provided the rules for the system. Following a successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round on December 15, 1993 the GATT organisation was transformed into the WTO. Whereas the GATT dealt mainly with trade in goods, the WTO and its agreements now cover trade in services, and in traded inventions, creations and designs (intellectual property). The WTO agreements provide the legal ground-rules for international commerce.

The system’s main function is to ensure that trade flows as freely and predictably as possible with the goal of improving the welfare of the peoples of its member countries. The WTO serves as a forum for trade negotiations and for dispute settlement.

South Africa was a member of the GATT and participated in the Uruguay Round of negotiations. The country ratified the Marrakesh Agreement in December 1994 and thus became a founding member of the WTO when the Organisation was established.

MEMBERS

Membership of the Organisation is growing. By 1 January 2002 there were 141 members and 31 observer governments.

OTHER DEPARTMENTS AND COOPERATING ORGANISATIONS

Department of Trade and Industry
National Department of Agriculture
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology
South African Revenue Service
National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC)
RELEVANT AGREEMENTS

General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)
Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)
Agreement on Trade Policy Reviews
Agreement on Civil Aircraft (not signed by all members)
Agreement on Government Procurement (not signed by all members)
GENERAL COMMENTS

Member countries of the WTO decided to launch a new round of global trade negotiations at the Ministerial meeting Doha, Qatar in November 2001. The Doha Declaration adopted at the Doha Ministerial meeting in paragraph 2 states that "International trade can play a major role in the promotion of economic development and the alleviation of poverty. We recognise the need for all our peoples to benefit from the increased opportunities and welfare gains that the multilateral trading system generates. The majority of WTO members are developing countries. We seek to place their needs and interests at the heart of the Work Programme adopted in this Declaration. Recalling the Preamble to the Marrakesh Agreement, we shall continue to make positive efforts designed to ensure that developing countries, and especially the least-developed among them, secure a share in the growth of world trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development. In this context, enhanced market access, balanced rules, and well targeted, sustainably financed technical assistance and capacity building programmes have important roles to play."

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa