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)