WTO structure

The WTO is governed by its member governments. Major decisions are usually made either by membercountries ministers or by their ambassadors or delegates. Decisions are normally taken by consensus, which are the outcomes of negotiations among WTO members. The rules are enforced by the members themselves under agreed procedures that they negotiated, including the possibility of trade sanctions. According to the rules of WTO, all member countries can participate in all councils, committees, etc., except Appellate Body, Dispute Settlement panels, and plurilateral committees.

The Highest authority is the Ministerial Conference, which has to meet at least once every two years. The Ministerial Conference can take decisions on all matters under any of the multilateral trade agreements.

Day-to-day work in between the ministerial conferences is handled by General Council with its three bodies: 1. The General Council, 2. The Dispute Settlement Body and 3. The Trade Policy Review Body. The General Council is the second level body in the WTO. It acts on behalf of the Ministerial Conference on all WTO affairs. It meets as the Dispute Settlement Body and the Trade Policy Review Body to oversee procedures for settling disputes between members and to analyze members’ trade policies.

The third level bodies or reporting bodies to the General Council are:

  1. The Council for Trade in Goods (Goods Council),
  2. The Council for Trade in Services (Services Council) and The Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council), which are responsible for the working of WTO agreements dealing with their respective areas of trade. They consist of all WTO members.

These three councils also have their committees, which are the fourth level of the WTO. The Goods Council has 11 committees dealing with agriculture, market access, subsidies, anti-dumping measures and so on. Again, these consist of all member countries.

The Services Council’s subsidiary bodies deal with financial services, domestic regulations, GATS rules and specific commitments.

The Dispute Settlement Body has two subsidiaries: the dispute settlement “panels” of experts appointed to adjudicate on unresolved disputes, and the Appellate Body that deals with appeals. Other committees operating under WTO are: Committee on Trade and Environment; Committee on Trade and Development (Subcommittee on Least-Developed Countries); Committee on Regional Trade Agreements; Committee on Balance of Payments Restrictions; Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration; Working Parties on Accession; Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance; and Working Group on Trade and Technology Transfer.

WTO structure


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