On January 1, 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) came into being. The WTO was an outgrowth of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a post WWII international body meant to encourage free trade among participating nations. GATT was part of the Bretton Woods inspired family including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

In theory, members of the WTO gain access to each other's markets on even terms. In one sense, this means that no two nations can have sweetheart trade pacts without granting the same terms to every other nation in the WTO. In another sense, it means that no one nation can flood another nation's market with cheap goods without accepting goods in return. The WTO was created to deal with international trade and promote free trade, which, among other objectives, involves regulating trade and helping members come to agreements on trade.

Many argue the WTO had failed in one of the basic goals it set for itself: transparency. Whether settling disputes or negotiating new trade relations, it's rarely clear which nations are in on the decision-making processes. Critics have variously used this lack of disclosure to allege that the WTO is easily manipulated by more influential countries. Many smaller and developing countries tend to have little influence in the WTO framework. (For related reading, check out The Dark Side Of The WTO and What Is The World Trade Organization?)

This question was answered by Andrew Beattie.

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