World Trade Organization (WTO)

  • Officially commenced on 1 January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which commenced in 1948
  • An organization that intends to supervise and liberalize international trade
  • HQ – Geneva, Switzerland
  • Official language – English, French, Spanish


Evolution of WTO
1944 Bretton Woods conference wanted to make ITO (International Trade Org.) but USA did not ratify. Thus, GATT was born as a stopgap arrangement
1947 GATT (General Agreement on Trade & Tariffs) established aimed to reduce barriers to international trade
  • Uruguay Round of Talks
  • Service & Intellectual Property rights related topics included in the debate, 1993, everyone agreed on it
  • Marrakesh treaty under Uruguay round of talks at Morocco
  • All nations signed on agreement & WTO  was established on Jan 1, 1995
  • India Founding member of WTO


WTO Structure
Ministerial Conference
  • Supreme Decision Making body
  • 160 members, Latest member  Yemen (Capital: Sanaa)
  • Meets once every two years,
  • Deliberates on trade agreements
  • Appoints Director General


General Council
  • Day to day Decision Making body
  • Meets regularly at Geneva.
  • Implements decision of ministerial conferences
  • Has Representative from each member state.
  • Has two bodies, with separate chairmen
  • Dispute settlement body
  • Trade policy review body


Director General
  • Appointed by ministerial conference
  • Has four years term.
  • Heads Secretariat at Geneva



Important Terms Before Understanding Functions of WTO

All countries want to protect domestic industries and prevent entry of foreign players.  So, they create two types of barriers to International trade viz.


  • Tariff Barriers → When Govt. puts heavy import duty / custom duty on Foreign Products which protects domestic players from competition from foreign players
  • Non Tariff barriers → When Domestic players are given subsidies / preference over the foreign players by Govt. for Ex.


  • When Govt. is buying some Phones/ Xerox Machines, in the tender it’ll mention that only Domestic companies are allowed.
  • Making polices in a way that it’s hard for foreign player to start factory / introduce his product in India


Key Functions of WTO
  • Reduce above stated barriers to international trade – both tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers & Get the members enter into multilateral trade agreements.
  • Provide forum for negotiation & dispute settlement for members, if agreements are violated.
  • Ensure the developing countries benefit from world trade, especially the least Developed countries
  • Cooperate with UN, World and IMF for a global economic policy that improves livelihood, protects environment and promotes sustainable Development.


Safety Protection Agreements with regards to Tariff & Non-Tariff Barriers
Non-food products Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT) Based on Quality & Durability
Food Products Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement (SPS) Based on Hygiene & Quality


WTO Agreements
  • General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
  • Agreements on
  • Agriculture
  • Textile
  • Antidumping


  • Safety / Quality check
  • Sanitary and phytosanitary agreement  (SPS)
  • Technical barriers to trade (TBT)
  • Trade related investment measures (TRIMS)
  • Subsidies and countervailing measures (SCM)


  • General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)
  • To ensure that services’ import/export enjoys the same principles of free and fair trade, just like the trade in goods



World Trade Organization

IPR Trade related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) – Protects seven categories of IPR viz.

  • Copyrights
  • Patents
  • Trademarks
  • Geographical indicators
  • Industrial designs
  • Integrated circuit layout-designs
  • Trade secret


Dispute settlement
  • To enforce the trade agreements and commitments made by individual member country
  • Once a complaint is filed,  first, the parties are allowed to sort the issue through mutual consultation
  • If that fails, formal adjudication by an expert panel


Policy Review
  • Periodically, WTO carries out audit/inspection/review of the trade policy of member states and gives them constructive feedback


Plurilateral Agreements
  • Not signed by all countries – Civil aircrafts, Government procurement, Dairy Products, Bovine meat



Hot Topic in News  → Agreement on Agriculture, WTO wants to
  • Reduce import duty
  • Reduce export subsidies
  • Reduce Amber box subsides (Domestic subsidies)


Green Box
  • Agriculture R &D, Training programmes, Flood / Drought relief to farmers etc.
  • Subsidies that don’t disrupt trade balance or cause minimum damage to trade balance
  • WTO Limit Nothing


Blue Box
  • Amber type Subsidies that aim to limit production
  • Subsidies that don’t increase with production
  • For example subsidies linked with acreage or number of animals
  • WTO Limit Nothing


Amber Box
  • Subsidies that disturb trade balance like subsidies on fertilizers, seeds, power and irrigation.
  • By this, country’s product becomes cheaper than others, in the international market
  • WTO Limit – De Minimus



Amber Box: De Minimus limits
  • The minimal amounts of Amber box subsides permitted by WTO, even though they distort trade
  • Calculated on the agriculture production of the given member state in 1986-88
  • Limits – Developed ( 5%), Developing (10%), Least Developed (Exempted)


India’s stand
  • In 1986: USA agriculture production was far ahead of India. So, their 5% De-minimus quota will be far bigger than our 10% quota (in absolute figures).
  • Input costs have skyrocketed in these decades. But, De-minimus doesn’t consider inflation factor.
  • So, if India has to limit its (Amber box) agro. subsidies to a non-inflation adjusted 86’s production; we cannot continue the MSP to farmers or food security to poor.
  • These subsidized foodgrain are meant for feeding the poor only, they do not distort international trade.


Bali summit and Peace clause (Indonesia)
Trade Facilitation Agreement To cut down the red tape in customs clearance
LDC Exports Exporters from Least developing countries, will get Duty free, quota free (DFQF) access to markets in foreign countries
Food stockholding Led to Peace clause


Peace clause
  • No member, can drag any developing country to Dispute settlement mechanism of WTO for violation of De-minimus limits in AoA, Provided that the said developing country -


  • is paying subsidies for staple foodcrops for public stockholding program & food security purpose.
  • is providing annual information of its food security Program to WTO.


  • Permanent solution will be taken no later than 11th ministerial conference i.e. at December 2017.


Trade facilitation agreement (TFA)
  • Member nations to publish a detailed list of procedure for import-export, fees, inspection rules, penalties etc.
  • Minimize the proof documents and clearance required for customs clearance
  • Provide electronic payment of fees, duties, taxes Reduce red tapes and bureaucratic hassles in customs clearance
  • Setup a single window mechanism to help trader submits all documents at a single point- preferably online.
  • Provide faster customs clearance to perishable goods (Fruits, veggies, flowers).
  • Give Advance ruling, as and where applicable.
  • Trader should be notified immediately, if goods are detained at customs.
  • LDC will get financial and technical help to comply with above rules.


  • Benefits – Increase global GDP by $1 trillion (~Rs 60 lakh crore) + more jobs approx. 21 million
  • Deadline – 2014, July, 31st But India refused + Agreement becomes effective from – 2015


India refused to sign Trade Facilitation agreement because –
  • TFA maintains that it doesn’t diminish the rights & obligations of members under other agreements of WTO
  • For example, under the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) if a developing country is giving Amber box subsidies beyond 10% of its national agriculture production (base year 1986), then other members will be justified in putting trade sanction or WTO-complaint against the said country.
  • Once India has signed TFA, the developed countries may stonewall their demands for a rational change in base year and ceiling limits on agro. Subsidies.
  • Then India will have to cut down agro. Subsidies in MSP and food security programs, else they’ll put sanctions on us, soon as Peace-clause “temporary” deadline is over in 2017!
  • And yet, we’ll have to keep giving them easy customs clearance because we signed the TFA!


Therefore, Government has decided to use TFA signature as a “Bargaining Chip” for a permanent solution of food subsidies issue.


India-US agreed to resolve differences over public stockholding for food security under WTO

As per the deal agreed between India and the US, the Peace Clause under Bali package will be allowed to continue in perpetuity and India’s food security programme will not be challenged under the WTO rules until a permanent solution to it is found.


  • However, bilateral agreement between India and the US need an endorsement by 160 WTO members.
  • The agreement will help pave the way for reaching a consensus on Bali Package of WTO and help implement far reaching reforms of custom rules under TFA.
  • Further, it will help India continue its food security programme and food subsidy.
India Yearbook English India Yearbook Hindi Economic Survey 2017

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