A global international organization that establishes trade rules and resolves trade disputes. The WTO’s rules have been developed through negotiations with member countries. The formation of the WTO came from the Uruguay Round of negotiations held from 1986 to 1994. That round made a major revision to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was created in 1947 to promote trade by reducing trade barriers.
The WTO’s agreements form the basis of the multilateral trading system and provide the legal ground rules for international trade. Those rules are legal contracts and bind governments to adhering to agreed-upon trade policies. The WTO also has a dispute resolution process that countries can use to resolve problems, instead of entering into a political or military conflict.
The WTO is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland and has over 500 employees. It has more than 140 member countries, whose trade accounts for 97% of world trade volume. About 30 other countries are negotiating to become members. The WTO’s top-level decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference, which meets at least once every two years. Decisions are made by the entire membership by consensus. Although a majority vote is also possible, it has never been used in the WTO and was rarely used under GATT. The WTO’s agreements are ratified by each country’s parliament or congress.