The World Trade Organisation Opportunities and Threats

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The WTO: opportunities

For many countries, developed and developing alike, a policy of freeing trade, the cornerstone of the WTO’s philosophy, has helped to create phenomenal levels of wealth and prosperity. Predictably, those that have benefited from the system wish (on the whole) to see the WTO continue, with its powers to be extended and enhanced. The WTO will clearly face problems in achieving this. However, such difficulties must be offset against the potential benefits that the WTO can generate, and the opportunities open to it.

New members. The WTO’s hand clearly becomes strengthened, the more inclusive it is. If China and the Russian Federation succeed in gaining membership, the WTO will become a truly global organisation and forum for trade management.

Dispute settlement procedures. The developing and strengthening of the WTO’s dispute settlement procedures is the greatest major advance of the WTO over the old GATT system. Governments, if found to have failed to meet a WTO obligation, can be instructed to correct the problem. If they fail to do so, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body can authorise retaliatory trade measures against the offender. Between 1995 and August 1999 the dispute settlement procedure was invoked 183 times over 142 matters. This compares with the GATT procedures which were invoked a mere 300 times in 48 years. This aspect of the WTO’s work is clearly growing and is a crucially important part of helping to maintain an orderly trade environment.

New agreements. In addition to agreements covering tariffs, services and intellectual property, the WTO is seeking to extend agreements into other trade-related areas, that either threaten or restrain the free-trade philosophy. Preliminary work is underway to investigate relationships between trade and investment, and trade and competition policy. Both areas clearly have significant impacts upon trade flows and thus fall into the remit of the WTO. However, national and cultural differences in respect to investment and competition policy will be extensive, and any formal agreement in these areas would seem to be far of in the future.

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