The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization whose main function is to ensure that global trade between nations flows freely and smoothly. If a country is a member of a WTO, its local laws cannot contradict the rules and regulations of the WTO. The WTO also serves as a mediator, providing a platform for member governments to resolve and negotiate trade disputes when they arise.
The WTO rules and regulations currently govern about 96.4% of all world trade. At its creation, the World Trade Organization included 125 member countries. Today, there are 164 members. The WTO also includes dozens of observers, which include not only countries but also intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the European Free Trade Organization (EFTA).
Member Countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO):
The origin of the World Trade Organization
The World Trade Organization was born out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) of 1947. The GATT was a legal agreement, signed by 23 countries, which eliminated or reduced quotas, tariffs, and subsidies, with the hope that minimizing barriers to international trade would boost economic recovery after World War II. The GATT would lead to the creation of the World Trade Organization on January 1, 1995.
Advantages and disadvantages of WTO membership
The WTO is viewed as having pros and cons. Supporters believe the WTO is beneficial to business and the global economy because it lowers barriers to trade and mediates trade disputes between member countries. Skeptics, however, believe that WTO widens the global wealth gap and undermines the principals of organic democracy, which ultimately harms domestic communities and human rights.
US President Donald Trump held the WTO in disdain, stating that the organization too often ruled unfairly against the United States and was failing to address evidence that China engages in business practices, such as forced labor, that are prohibited by WTO guidelines. Trump's actions toward the WTO included vetoing the appointment of judges to the WTO courts that decide trade disputes and threatening to withdraw the United States from the organization entirely. The U.S. has been the subject of more negative trade agreement decisions than any other WTO member, suffering losses in about 90% of WTO claims filed against the U.S. However, the U.S. has also won 91% of the complaints it has filed against other countries. If the United States had left the WTO, trillions of dollars in global trade would have been disrupted.
US President Joe Biden has indicated a more cooperative stance toward the WTO. However, [Biden's administration has reiterated](](https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/14/business/economy/trade-wto-katherine-tai.html) that the organization needs significant reform, starting with a more streamlined dispute-settling processes and action upon a number of issues, including China's trade practices and how best to distribute vaccines—which are protected intellectual property—during a global pandemic.