World Trade Organisation


The World Trade Organisation (WTO) was formed in 1995 following on from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The WTO aims to liberalise international trade in goods, services and agriculture, through the removal of tariffs and subsidies, and the removal or restriction of government regulation. The WTO also expands and enforces intellectual property rights, which give holders the right to have a monopoly for a specified time. This contrasts with the rhetoric of free trade.

The neo-liberal free market policies promoted by the WTO, along with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have attracted widespread criticism and protest. This model of development has encouraged the growth of export processing zones and industries in developing countries, where working conditions are poor and environmental standards are low. This has promoted a “race to the bottom” to attract investors. The death of 1132 Bangladeshi garment workers who were ordered to work in an unsafe building in April 2013 is only one example of the result of such policies.

The neo-liberal model of development has contributed to the current global food crisis by promoting global agribusiness at the expense of sustainable local agriculture. This model has also promoted the deregulation of financial markets which led to massive market failure and the global financial crisis. Governments are now attempting to re-regulate the financial system, which should mean moving away from the neo-liberal model.

Read more about the following WTO negotiations:
The Doha ‘Development’ Round
The General Agreement on Trades in Services (GATS)

WTO divided as UN calls for better system

December 23, 2015:  Positive outcomes of the WTO Ministerial meeting include some restraints on some, but not all, unfair agricultural export subsidies used by the US and EU, the exclusion of pro-corporate investment issues, and the retention of some development issues in future negotiations. But the WTO needs big changes to address the growing gap between rich and poor countries See analysis by Deborah James, UN  expert Alfred de Zayas, and Oxfam.

450 groups ask WTO for justice

December 14, 2015: Over 450 civil society organizations from over 150 countries have signed a letter to WTO member governments ahead of the 10th WTO Ministerial Meeting in Nairobi. The letter asks them to change  existing WTO rules to make the global trading system more compatible with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goalsand to keep the Doha development agenda, not  replace it with “new issues”  that would constrain development and public interest  policies.

India criticised for putting food security first in World Trade Organisation

By Jemma Williams


India has come under heavy criticism recently for blocking the implementation of a World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement reached at Bali last December.

Proponents celebrated the Bali ‘package’ as a long-awaited achievement by the WTO, which had failed to reach a significant agreement since 1995. However, critics lamented that the Bali deal was skewed in the favour of developed nations above developing nations (read AFTINET’s critique of the Bali package here).

WTO gets second chance at Bali

By Peter Murphy

Farmer, trade union, women and other civil society organisations who were focused on trade justice at the Bali World Trade Organisation Ministerial were disappointed in the ‘package’ that was adopted, while the WTO itself was elated.

At the extended close on December 7, 2013, Director-General Roberto Azevado declared it was the most significant decision since 1995. He even said, “For the first time in our history: the WTO has truly delivered!” But the outcome was a squib.