The World Trade Organization (WTO) replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) of 1947, as the world’s global trading body in 1995. The principal decision-making body of the WTO is the Ministerial Conference.
According to the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO, the Ministerial Conference meets every two years and brings together all members of the WTO.
Currently, the WTO has 164 members. Another 21 countries are in the process of negotiating their membership terms. Lithuania joined the WTO on 31 May 2001.
The General Council carries out the functions of the WTO in the intervals between meetings of the Ministerial Conference. In addition, committees, subcommittees and working groups deal with concrete issues, depending on their type.
The WTO ensures that its members’ trade is conducted in accordance with the rules that are mutually agreed upon and set out in the WTO agreements.
The WTO has a Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) to deal with disputes between WTO members. Disputes arise when a member considers another member to be breaking the WTO agreements, or to be a failure to live up to obligations.
WTO’s activity is based on the following principles:
• Most-favoured-nation (MFN) treatment: treating other people equally. Members cannot discriminate between their trading partners;
• National treatment (giving others the same treatment as one’s own nationals): Imported and locally produced goods shall be treated equally after the foreign goods have entered the market. The same shall apply to foreign and domestic services.
• Freer trade: gradually, through negotiation;
• Predictability: through binding and transparency
• Promoting fair competition;
• Encouraging development and economic reform.
By becoming a WTO member (a Separate Customs Territory), a country not only commits itself to abide by all WTO obligations, but also not to raise import tariffs higher than the negotiated rates and to ensure market opening for service providers in the fields, where commitments were undertaken.
The European Union and its member states are also WTO members in their own right (with representatives of 28 member states and 1 representative of the European Commission). Since foreign trade policy is an exclusive competence of the EU, member states are represented by the European Commission. The Commission consults regularly with the EU member states within the Trade Policy Committee (TPC) of the Council of the European Union composed of high-ranking EU officials. The EU member states’ positions are being discussed in both Brussels and Geneva. The EU member states are members of the WTO, so they shall have a number of votes equal to their number.
The EU member states may also be elected to head the WTO’s negotiations and regular committees and working groups. Lithuanian representatives have headed these WTO Committees: the Committee on Customs Valuation, the Committee on Balance of Payments Restrictions, the Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration, the Committee on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures.
The WTO has its headquarters in Geneva. The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Lithuania to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva (Lithuania’s Permanent Representative to the WTO) represents and defends Lithuania’s interests in this organization.