According to deluxesurveillance, the WTO is an international organization based in Geneva that deals with the regulation of trade and economic relations. It was founded in Marrakech (Morocco) in 1994 and started work in Geneva on January 1, 1995. The WTO is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which came into being after the Second World War (see below).


Removal of trade barriers and liberalization of international trade. The long-term goal is international free trade in order to increase the prosperity of the participating economies. In terms of economic policy, the WTO pursues a liberal foreign trade policy that goes hand in hand with deregulation and privatization.

Members (164)

With 164 participants, more than 80 percent of the 193 UN member states are also members of the WTO, including the largest economic areas in the world: EU, USA, China and Japan. Please note: The members do not have to be states – for example, Hong Kong and Macao (both China) are WTO members. Another special feature: In contrast to the UN, Taiwan is a member of the WTO.

Latest development
On July 29, 2016, Afghanistan became the 164th member.

Observer (23)
Of these, 22 states are “observers in negotiation status”, as all observer states generally have to start accession negotiations within five years. The exception is the Holy See (Vatican City), which does not have to start negotiations.


The WTO is the umbrella organization of three agreements drawn up and signed by the most important trading nations:

  • GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade)
  • GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services)
  • TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights)

At the WTO, decisions are usually made by consensus, although from a purely legal point of view, majority decisions can be made.

Around two thirds of the WTO members are “developing countries” (but there is no clear definition for this in the WTO), some of which have separate regulations. The developing countries try within the WTO to bundle their often very different interests in informal, sometimes overlapping alliances. The best known are the various “G” groupings, including G-24, G-77, G-90. In addition, there are political or (regional) economic alliances between various WTO members, e.g. EU, NAFTA, ASEAN, Mercosur.


The WTO has three main organs: the Ministerial Conference, the General Council and the Secretariat.

  1. Ministerial
    Conference The highest organ of the WTO is the Ministerial Conference of Economics and Trade Ministers, which meets at least every two years. Negotiations at many ministerial conferences have so far failed, usually accompanied by massive protests and demonstrations by opponents of globalization.

The so-called “Doha Round” (Doha Development Agenda – DDA), which was launched in Doha (Qatar) and should be completed by December 31, 2004, has been running since 2001. In July 2006 the negotiations were broken off without any results. The fourth attempt in July 2008 also failed after an agreement was reached on 18 of the 20 negotiation points on incompatible positions on one remaining point of agricultural policy. In 2016, the round is generally considered to have failed.

  1. General Council
    The General Council is the top decision-maker in the WTO. It meets regularly between the meetings of the Ministerial Conference in order to carry out the tasks of the WTO and also to carry out its own responsibilities that have been assigned to itself.

There is also a dispute settlement body, whose task it is to resolve trade disputes between the member states, and a body for the review of trade policy, whose task is to regularly review the trade policies of the members according to a fixed procedure.

  1. Secretariat
    The WTO Secretariat operates under the direction of a Director General and has its permanent seat in Geneva. The Secretariat implements the decisions of the Ministerial Conference and the General Council.


The WTO is an almost universal organization, the members of which together generate more than 90% of world trade. However, the WTO is neither controlled by parliament, nor is it subordinate to the UN. In addition, the WTO cannot claim any democratic legitimacy, since undemocratic states are also WTO members.

It is rightly criticized that WTO members such as the EU and the USA, while demanding free trade from other countries, continue to practice protectionism themselves, for example in the form of agricultural subsidies and export subsidies for agricultural products. What is certain is that neither the WTO nor the GATT agreements have ensured worldwide free trade. As before, there are asymmetrical trade relations between the industrialized and developing countries.