The WTO is run by its member governments, of which there are currently 150, including importantly Russia and China.
Unlike the IMF and the World Bank, the WTO has no in-house directorate empowered to make decisions, although it does have a secretariat with a high-profile Secretary-General. The ruling body of the WTO is the ministerial conference which has to meet at least once every two years. Day-to-day work in between ministerial conferences is handled by three bodies, with delegated authority:
Three further councils, each handling a different broad area of trade, report to the General Council:
The Council for Trade in Goods (Goods Council)
The Council for Trade in Services (Services Council)
The Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council)
A number of smaller committees report to the General Council, covering issues such as trade and development, the environment, regional trading arrangements, and administration.
The Dispute Settlement Body also has two subsidiaries: the dispute settlement "panels" of experts appointed to adjudicate on unresolved disputes, and the Appellate Body that deals with appeals.
The WTO is not itself a rule-making body, but it brokers agreements between nations, then administers these using dispute resolution procedures and quasi-judicial powers which are binding on its members.
However, the WTO does insist (as of right) that certain principles should be incorporated in the agreements it oversees:
Most-favoured-nation (MFN). Under the WTO agreements, countries cannot normally discriminate between their trading partners. This principle is known as most-favoured-nation (MFN) treatment. It is so important that it is the first article of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which governs trade in goods.
National treatment. Imported and locally-produced goods should be treated equally – at least after the foreign goods have entered the market. The same should apply to foreign and domestic services, and to foreign and local trademarks, copyrights and patents. National treatment only applies once a product, service or item of intellectual property has entered the market. Therefore, charging customs duty on an import is not a violation of national treatment even if locally-produced products are not charged an equivalent tax.
The rules on non-discrimination – MFN and national treatment – are designed to secure fair conditions of trade. So too are those on dumping (exporting at below cost to gain market share) and subsidies. Many of the other WTO agreements aim to support fair competition: in agriculture, intellectual property, services, for example.
The WTO's rules apply to all of its member states, since they have always been reached by consensus during the various negotiating rounds that have taken place. Rulings of the WTO's Dispute Settlement and Appellate bodies have direct effect on the member states involved in any particular reference and are enforced by the members themselves under agreed procedures that they negotiated, including the possibility of trade sanctions. Since the founding of the GATT, no member state has ever refused to implement negotiated policies or procedures, and no member state has ever refused to accept a Dispute Settlement ruling, once appeal procedures have been exhausted, although the USA has come to close to it in the case of Antigua and Barbuda.