World Trade Organisation

About the WTO

 

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.

 

WTO not dead yet: alternative appeals body set up, but fundamental change needed

December 18, 2019: For the past two years the US Trump administration has imposed unilateral tariffs outside of the rules of the 164-member World Trade Organisation. The WTO, although it has many flaws, is the only multilaterally-agreed rules-based trading system. WTO rules are enforceable through government-to-government disputes, heard by disputes panels whose initial decisions can be appealed to ensure they conform with WTO rules.

New article says e-commerce rules could reduce corporate tax, undermining efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals

October 3, 2019: A new article by Deborah James from the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows how e-commerce rules in the WTO and other trade deals could limit developing countries’ ability to tax the business activities of transnational corporations, reducing much needed revenue for public services and the development of decent employment and to fund their digital industrialisation.

Trump intellectual property demands on China based on distorted system says expert

August 8. 2019: Stephen Grenville from the Lowy Institute, formerly with the OECD, argues in The Interpreter that Australia should not uncritically join US attacks on Chinese theft of intellectual property (IP) on patents and copyright. He says that the current system is “so distorted by vested interests that the main beneficiary may be the army of patent lawyers and the legal process which support them.”

Report says regulate tech giants but Australian govt leading deregulation push at WTO

July 29, 2019: After an 18-month inquiry, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which is independent of government, has produced a Report on Digital Platforms with 23 recommendations for regulation to protect consumer privacy, prevent extremist and misleading digital content, address the market dominance of Facebook and Google and support public interest journalism.

UNCTAD calls for a new multilateralism and a global green new deal

April 16, 2019: A New report from UNCTAD critiques the failings of the existing multilateral order to establish a stable global economy that facilitates prosperity for all. Against the backdrop of persistent global poverty, rising inequality, the imminent climate crisis, and a global economy that remains inherently unstable 10 years after the 2008 financial crisis, the report calls for a new approach to multilateralism that is genuinely democratic and works towards the realisation of “shared prosperity and a healthy planet”.

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