The World Trade Organisation (WTO) founded in 1995 aims to increase international trade in goods, services and agriculture through multilateral negotiations open to all countries. It also serves to enforce adherence to WTO agreements through its dispute resolution and appeals process. AFTINET supports the concept of a multilateral system open to all countries, with enforceable rules that includes developing countries.
But in practice the WTO has often failed to deliver meaningful outcomes for poorer countries. Negotiations have been dominated by the most powerful players which have not responded to developing country concerns. This has resulted in stalled negotiations and reduced hopes for a fair multilateral trade system.
From 1995 the WTO had agreements on goods, services, agriculture, intellectual property, and other issues. But over the last decade the WTO has stalled on new agreements, with only one agreement reached between all its members: the 2013 “Bali Package” on trade facilitation, which had a tiny scope compared with previous meetings and overall WTO objectives. The WTO has focussed instead on negotiating smaller "plurilateral" agreements involving fewer, mostly industrialised, countries.
The result of the WTO’s shortcomings has been an increasing number of bilateral and regional free trade agreements being negotiated outside the WTO framework. These include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA)
These deals have generally left out the poorest countries and pushed a more “ambitious” corporate agenda, including chapters which are not about traditional trade issues at all – such as increased investor rights, greater restrictions on government regulation and stronger monopolies on patents (including medicines) and copyright which are actually the opposite of “free trade”.
In general, AFTINET advocates for multilateral trade negotiations involving 164 WTO members over bilateral and regional negotiations. A fair multilateral system would be non-discriminatory, give developing countries more negotiating power and be based on commitment to human rights, labour rights and environmental sustainability.