What Is the World Trade Organization (WTO)?

The World Trade Organization is the only international institution that oversees the global trade rules between nations. The WTO is based on agreements signed by the majority of the world's trading nations. The main function of the organization is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers protect and manage their businesses.

Proponents of the WTO, particularly multinational corporations, believe that the WTO is beneficial to business. Skeptics believe that the WTO undermines the principles of organic democracy and widens the international wealth gap. There are 164 member countries in the WTO and 23 'observer' countries, according the official website of the organization.

As part of his broader attempts to renegotiate the United States' international trade deals, President Trump has threatened to withdraw from the WTO, calling it a, "disaster." If the US were to withdraw, trillions of dollars in global trade could be disrupted.

The World Trade Organization Explained

The WTO is essentially a mediation entity that upholds the international rules of trade between nations. However, the WTO has fueled globalization with both positive and adverse effects. The WTO's efforts have increased global trade expansion, but a side effect has been a negative impact on local communities and human rights.

Advocates of the WTO consider the stimulation of free trade and a decline in trade disputes as beneficial to the global economy. Critics of the WTO point to the decline in domestic industries and increasing foreign influence as negative impacts on the world economy. 

Fast Facts

  • The WTO oversees global trade rules between nations.
  • The WTO has fueled globalization with both positive and negative effects.
  • The main focus of the WTO is to provide open lines of communication concerning trade between its members.

Real World Example of the WTO at Work

The WTO provides a platform that allows member governments to negotiate and resolve trade issues with other members. The WTO was created through negotiation, and its main focus is to provide open lines of communication concerning trade between its members. For example, the WTO has lowered trade barriers and increased trade among member countries. On the other hand, it has also maintained trade barriers when it makes sense to do so in the global context. Therefore, the WTO attempts to provide negotiation mediation that benefits the global economy.

Once negotiations are complete and an agreement is in place, the WTO then offers to interpret that agreement in the event of a future dispute. All WTO agreements include a settlement process whereby the organization legally conducts neutral conflict resolution.

No negotiation, mediation, or resolution would be possible without the foundational WTO agreements. These agreements set the legal ground rules for international commerce that the WTO oversees. When a member country signs an agreement, that country's government is bound to a set of constraints that it must observe when setting future trade policies. These agreements protect producers, importers and exporters while encouraging world governments to meet specific social and environmental standards.