The Final Act of the Uruguay Round and the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organization (the WTO Agreement) were signed on April 15, 1994. The WTO supersedes the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was established in 1947 as the umbrella organization for international trade. At the heart of the WTO are the numerous agreements negotiated and signed by members during the Uruguay Round. These agreements cover trade in goods and services, as well as trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights. All have some relevance to agricultural trade, and supporting material on a number of them is available in this briefing room.
There are also four plurilateral agreements (not binding on all WTO members):
- Agreement on Trade in Civil Aircraft
- Agreement on Government Procurement
- International Dairy Agreement
- International Bovine Meat Agreement
The WTO Agreement also created a Dispute Settlement Body within the WTO to resolve disputes among WTO members, and it established a system for regular review of national trade policies and international trade trends.
Any state or customs territory having full autonomy in the conduct of its trade policies may become a WTO member subject to negotiations guided by a working party of WTO members. At the conclusion of the Uruguay Round, there were 124 WTO members. China completed accession negotiations and became a WTO member in December 2001, Taiwan in January 2002, and Viet Nam in January 2007. Tonga is the WTO's 151st member, joining in July 2007. Russia and Ukraine are among over two dozen countries currently negotiating to join the WTO (see WTO's web page on accessions). The lengthy accession process involves extensive review of the applicant's trade policies and laws to ensure conformity with WTO rules. WTO membership should facilitate more transparent and rules-based trade regimes in these countries.