Chapter Six: World Trade Organization

V. The WTO's Agreements

All the legal agreements under which the WTO operates are between the governments of the member countries of the WTO.

The WTO agreements cover goods, services and intellectual property. They spell out the principles of liberalization, and the permitted exceptions. They include individual countries’ commitments to lower customs tariffs and other trade barriers, and to open and keep open services markets. They set procedures for settling disputes. They prescribe special treatment for developing countries. They require governments to make their trade policies transparent by notifying the WTO about laws in force and measures adopted, and through regular reports by the secretariat on countries’ trade policies.

The GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) was negotiated in 1947 and came into force in 1948. It was elaborated and extended during the eight subsequent negotiating rounds prior to the establishment of the WTO as such under the Uruguay Round, which began in 1986 and was concluded in Marrakesh in 1994. The 1947 GATT (and now its 1994 revision) forms part of the legal structure of the WTO.

The Marrakesh agreements, which are numerous, include:

There are schedules to the agreements which contain the commitments made by individual WTO members allowing specific foreign products or service-providers access to their markets. The schedules are integral parts of the agreements. In the print version these schedules comprise about 30,000 pages for all WTO Members.

There are some later Protocols and Agreements prior to the commencement of the Doha Round in 2001. Assuming that there is eventually a successful conclusion to the Doha Round, it can be expected that many of the Marrakesh agreements will be extensively amended and that new agreements will be signed.