Case study: World Trade Organisation (WTO)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) “is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations.” Its aim is “to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.”

The WTO was formed in 1995 to supervise and liberalise international trade. It was established after member states signed the Marrakech Agreement in 1994, replacing the original General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) as the international regulator on trade issues.  The WTO has 153 member states, whose trade transactions account for over 97% of the world total.

The WTO has six main functions:

  • Administering trade agreements
  • Acting as a forum for trade negotiations
  • Settling trade disputes
  • Reviewing national trade policies
  • Assisting developing countries in trade policy issues, through technical assistance and training programmes
  • Cooperating with other international organizations

The WTO is composed of a secretariat, two governance bodies and the Dispute Settlement Body. The Secretariat, based in Geneva, is independent from WTO members and has no decision-making powers, but, among other duties, monitors and analyses developments in world trade and organises ministerial conferences. The General Council is made up of representatives from all member states, and meets regularly to carry out the WTO’s functions. The Ministerial Conference, the top-most decision-making body composed of all members of the WTO, usually meets every two years and takes decisions on all matters relating to the multilateral trade agreements. The Dispute Settlement Body is the body which rules on trade disputes between members.

The WTO operates according to several principles. One is the Most Favoured Nation principle, which mandates that countries may not provide ‘favoured’ nations with exceptional trading privileges, but that they treat all participating nations equally. Another is the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, which means that member states should be subject to differing obligations and timelines for implementation of agreements based on their level of economic development.

We selected the World Trade Organization as one of our case studies because it is a regulator and adjudicator in issues of global trade, which affect opportunities for access of countries and enterprises in both developing and developed countries to energy (including from different sources) and technology, both of which are important to tackling climate change.

On the Publications tab above, we will release findings from this project about the WTO's accountability capabilities and how the WTO is preparing itself to tackle climate change. On the External documents and links tab, we will post key documents about these issues collected during the course of our research.