Skip to Content
Related Videos


Ambassador Kirk's Statement at Opening Plenary of the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference


Ambassador Kirk talks about why he is in Geneva, Switzerland for the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference


Chief of Mission Dave Shark talks about the World Trade Organization


Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Carol Guthrie talks about making the Ministerial accessible to everyone

USTR Blog

December 2, 2009

"AP: US trade chief turns attention to creating jobs"

12/2/09 6:50pm

During Ambassador Kirk's last day in Geneva, Switzerland for the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference, he sat down the Associated Press to talk about how increasing American exports around the world can help to create jobs at home. Read part of the article below, and the full article here.

"We are now turning our attention almost full-time to how we create jobs and continue to grow the economy," said Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, as a three-day WTO conference ended. "Too many Americans believed ... that our previous trade policies had been overly generous to our partners."
Kirk, on his second trip to Geneva, said the U.S. was rebalancing the WTO's so-called Doha round of trade talks to ensure that they create better conditions for American exports. "In most cases when we export more, we get to hire more people," he said.
...
Kirk said he wanted quick results to help ease the economic duress in the United States.
"This whole notion of everything taking 10 years, 15 years and 20 years is just antithetical to me," he said. "The world changes too quick. Competition is too fierce. The consumers, businesses, workers can't often wait 20 or 30 years just to get a result."

GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Gives Closing Statement at 7th Session of WTO Ministerial Confence

12/2/09 2:01pm

United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk made the following statement at the conclusion of the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference today in Geneva, Switzerland.

ARK at Closing Press Conference

From Ambassador Kirk:

"During the recent and ongoing financial crisis, participation in a rules-based global trading system has led WTO Members to avoid the kind of protectionism that exacerbated the Great Depression. This week in Geneva, we have recognized the need to strengthen and build on that rules-based and cooperative foundation, and to consider the potential of a balanced and ambitious conclusion to the Doha Round.
"In the wake of the financial crisis, the world needs a meaningful outcome at Doha that provides new and real economic opportunities. As President Obama described it, ‘not just any agreement, but an agreement that will open up markets and increase exports around the world.' This will create the widespread economic opportunity necessary to meet the development promise of Doha.
"In the last several months, the United States has sought to work with our trading partners on new approaches to truly move these talks into the endgame. Our team introduced sustained direct bilateral engagement as a way for key partners to achieve needed clarity and close gaps with regard to market-opening contributions by advanced developing countries. The question now is the willingness of partners to engage in a meaningful way.
"WTO members have repeatedly committed this year to moving the Doha Round forward. It is time to act on those commitments, move outside our comfort zones, and make the hard choices required of those who would lead at the WTO.
"In the United States, we recognize that trade can be an important pillar of global economic recovery and of recovery right at home - particularly in terms of creating the well-paid jobs that Americans want and need. And we also recognize the economic necessity of this round to the poorest countries, to which the Obama Administration has made a special commitment.
"This ministerial may be over, but the work will not stop. I look forward to marking progress on the Doha Round, and on many more issues within this rules-based global trading community, when next we meet."

GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Stops by USTR Briefing for Trade Advisory Committee Members

12/2/09 10:00am

ARK at Industry Briefing

This morning, Ambassador Kirk dropped by the daily USTR briefing for trade advisory committee members who participated in the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference. Throughout the week USTR staff have provided briefings to the members regarding ministerial activities. Ambassador Kirk thanked the advisors for their hard work and support, acknowledging that their presence at the ministerial sent a strong signal to our trading partners that the United States is committed to being a global partner.

ARK at Industry Briefing 2

These trade advisory committee members represent agricultural interests, environmental and labor groups, the business and manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy. They provide advice to the USTR on trade and economic issues affecting the United States. Ambassador Kirk gave a brief rundown on the ministerial, his meetings and next steps and then they all headed off for the days plenary and closing sessions.


GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Speaks at Second Working Session of the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference

12/2/09 4:56am

Ambassador Kirk spoke this morning at the second Working Session of the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference. This working session focused on the WTO's Contribution to Recovery, Growth, and Development. Read his remarks below.

"As the financial situation unfolded a year ago, there were dire predictions about what might happen to the trading system - visions of the kind of protectionism that worsened the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Instead - and as evidenced by the Director General's most recent TPRB report - we have not seen anything close to what was feared. The system has held fast and, so far, has passed a fairly strenuous test.
The continued health of the trading system is due in part to many of our own individual efforts in the face of domestic political pressure to turn inward. It is also due to the recognition that in today's global economy, it's pretty easy to shoot yourself in the foot.
Of course we must, and will, remain vigilant.
We should all recognize that the rules-based global trading system took a lot of difficult work over the last six decades to establish and maintain, and that it will be a continuing challenge to maintain its relevance.
Our being here today is a testament to the continued and increasing significance of a rules-based World Trade Organization in an increasingly integrated global economy.
Through the WTO's work on Aid For Trade, the Enhanced Integrated Framework, and its own technical assistance programs, the WTO has also helped to facilitate trade-related technical assistance in line with the priorities set by Members in their national development strategies.
I attended an important meeting yesterday with many least-developed country Members, hosted by the Director General. It highlighted the work of the WTO and its Members to ensure trade benefits the poorest Members of the WTO. For its part, the United States is the largest single-country provider of trade-related technical assistance.
The WTO's vocation of economic growth and development requires a Doha outcome that goes beyond just capturing little more than the status quo in terms of market access. We need an outcome that truly creates new opportunities for all Members.
The Secretariat's recent report to the LDC Subcommittee concerning market access for least-developed countries highlighted the geographical redistribution of LDC trade flows, with LDC exports to developing countries expanding - particularly to the major developing economies such as China and India.
In this context, a Doha outcome that delivers the global economic growth necessary to spur development will require market-opening contributions from all key players - not only developed but also advanced developing countries, commensurate with their role in the global economy.
This remains the linchpin in our effort to take Doha to the finish line, and the United States remains committed to working with our partners to achieve a Doha success.
The United States supports the WTO's ongoing monitoring of trade measures, its work to ensure that trade benefits all Members, particularly the poorest, and Members' pursuit of progressive trade liberalization through the Doha Round negotiations.
Through these efforts, the open, transparent, and rules-based multilateral trading system embodied by the WTO will continue its important contributions to economic growth and development for all."
back to top

December 1, 2009

GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Participates in Dinner Hosted By Hong Kong

12/1/09 4:13pm

This evening in Geneva, Switzerland, Ambassador Kirk attended a dinner hosted by the government of Hong Kong, at which a broad range of ministers engaged in what Ambassador Kirk termed "useful and productive" conversations.


GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Meets with Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma

12/1/09 10:56am

This afternoon in Geneva, Switzerland, Ambassador Ron Kirk met with Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. Ambassador Kirk expressed the importance of the work being done together by the United States and India on a bilateral and multilateral basis in an effort to move the Doha Round of world trade negotiations toward an endgame, and the two discussed the status of and next steps in U.S.-Indian interaction toward that end.

Ambassador Kirk and Minister Sharma also discussed the positive progress made at the United States-India Trade Policy Forum meeting in New Delhi in October, and the recent successful visit to Washington of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The two committed to further work toward a more formal framework for discussion of trade and investment issues between the two countries.


GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Meets with Africa Group Ministers and Holds a Bilateral Meeting with Russia

12/1/09 9:53am

Late this morning in Geneva, Switzerland, Ambassador Kirk met with trade ministers and officials from more than 25 African countries. The meeting focused on key issues in the Doha Round of trade negotiations, the future of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and trade-related aid to Africa.

ARK at Africa Group
Ambassador Kirk and Egyptian Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid

On Doha, Ambassador Kirk encouraged Africa Group ministers to work with the United States to ensure a Doha result that creates the new market access needed to generate economic growth and development in Africa and globally - namely, with meaningful market access contributions by key emerging economies. He recognized the importance of cotton for African countries, and noted that best solution on cotton would come from an ambitious agricultural outcome on all commodities and across all three pillars of the negotiations - particularly improved market access into key markets such as China.

Ambassador Kirk also assured African Ministers of continued USG support for AGOA and to provide U.S. aid for trade, but urged ministers to continue to make the kinds of reforms and investments needed to diversify their exports and improve their competitiveness in the U.S. as well as regional and global markets.

Africa Group

Ambassador Kirk also met briefly this afternoon with Russian Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina. Ambassador Kirk expressed the United States' continuing support for and readiness to assist Russia's individual accession to the WTO. Ambassador Kirk also stressed the continuing need for Russia to open its markets to U.S. meat and poultry products in accordance with existing agreements and with world health and science standards.

ARK and Nabiullina
Ambassador Kirk and with Russian Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina


GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Speaks at a Working Session on Review of WTO Activities, Including the Doha Work Program

12/1/09 6:24am

ARK and Rohde at Working Session
United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Assistant USTR for WTO and Multilaterial Affairs Matt Rohde confer during a working session of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ambassador Kirk recently spoke at the first Working Session of the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference. The Working Session focused on a review of WTO activities, including the DOHA Work Program. Read Ambassador Kirk's remarks below.

"The WTO's activities have improved lives throughout the world, contributed to global growth and development, and provided a strong bulwark against protectionism in troubled times. The WTOs ongoing work has the potential to generate further economic growth and development that can lift millions out of poverty.
These important goals are being fulfilled through the Doha Work Program, the day-to-day activities of the WTO's more than 20 standing committees, the organizations contributions to work on Aid for Trade, and by the integration of new Members into the rules-based multilateral trading system.
We are pleased that the negotiating groups established under the Doha Work Program have re-energized their multilateral work this fall.
But to close the remaining gaps in agriculture, NAMA, and services particularly with regard to the market access commitments by the most advanced developing countries this multilateral work needs to be supplemented by sustained direct bilateral engagement, as called for by G-20 leaders.
There is no secret to how we will achieve an ambitious and balanced result in each of these core areas. The United States has been clear that we will need to achieve meaningful market opening that will result in significant new trade flows, particularly in the worlds fastest-growing economies.
Little is being asked of developing country Members in terms of new commitments in the Round. But the gains in terms of economic growth, employment and prosperity stand to benefit all of us if trade is expanded in the years ahead in rapidly emerging global markets.
The more progress that can be made in advancing toward a final package in agriculture, NAMA, and in services, the more momentum we will be providing to the broader multilateral work.
The WTO's work on trade facilitation will simplify and modernize customs procedures, enhancing trading opportunities, improve the investment climate and help better integrate developing countries, particularly LDCs, into global supply networks.
With respect to LDCs, the United States stands by our commitment at Hong Kong to provide duty-free and quota-free market access to least-developed countries as part of the implementation of a successful conclusion to the Doha Round. This will complement ongoing U.S. efforts to foster the further integration of LDCs into the multilateral trading system.
The WTO is also advancing the liberalization of trade in environmental goods and services, and we fully support fast-tracking action in the WTO's work on liberalizing trade in climate-friendly technologies.
We also support the WTO's work on strengthening rules on fisheries subsidies, which can effectively put a stop to overcapacity and overfishing.
In addition to the important WTO work being done to conclude the Doha Round, it is universally recognized that eliminating tariffs alone is not sufficient to foster development. Assistance is needed to help build productive capacity in developing countries.
The United States is committed to providing substantial, effective grant Aid for Trade in response to priorities identified by beneficiary countries themselves.
U.S. trade capacity-building assistance totaled nearly $2.3 billion in FY2008, up 52 percent from FY2007. Since FY1999, U.S. trade capacity building funding has exceeded $10.2 billion.
The United States strongly supports the accession of new Members to the WTO, particularly in the case of the least developed countries. In this connection, we are committed to the effective implementation of the 2002 Decision on LDC Accessions.
Adoption of WTO provisions builds strong rules-based economic institutions that have a long-term positive impact on trade, economic growth and domestic development, and the process of WTO accession helps to facilitate the reforms necessary to economic growth and development.
The efforts of the United States in LDC accessions are centered on helping the applicant lay out its plan to accomplish necessary steps, and to take those steps in conjunction with provided technical assistance.
In all of these activities, the United States looks forward to continuing to work in partnership with WTO Members."

GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Attends Breakfast on the Enhanced Integrated Framework

12/1/09 4:14am

This morning in Geneva, Switzerland, Ambassador Ron Kirk participated in a breakfast discussion of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), a multi-organization, multi-donor program that coordinates trade-related assistance to least-developed countries.  Topics included ongoing efforts to implement the EIF, how the Framework can help least-developed countries with accession to the WTO, and how additional funding might be mobilized.

Ambassador Kirk today noted that President Obama’s 2009 Trade Policy Agenda includes a commitment to be a strong partner to developing countries, especially the poorest developing countries, and conveyed the Obama Administration’s intention to continue support for the Enhanced Integrated Framework through bilateral assistance and on-the-ground presence in least-developed countries.  This will include the work of USAID  and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Since 2001, the United States has cumulatively provided nearly $2 billion in Aid for Trade to countries participating in the EIF.

back to top

November 30, 2009

GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Attends Ministerial Welcome Reception

11/30/09 4:02pm

This evening in Geneva, Switzerland, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk has attended a ministerial welcome reception hosted by Swiss Economic Minister Doris Leuthard at the International Conference Center in Geneva.  

Ambassador Kirk also attended a dinner hosted by the government of Japan, including Agriculture Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu.  

Earlier today, Ambassador Kirk spoke at the opening plenary session of the ministerial meeting.


VIDEO: Ambassador Kirk's Statement at Opening Plenary

11/30/09 1:23pm

You can watch Ambassador Kirk's statement at the Opening Plenary of the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference here.


GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Speaks at the Opening Plenary of the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference

11/30/09 12:02pm

Ambassador Kirk delivered remarks at the Opening Plenary of the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference earlier today. Read the remarks below.

"Thank you Mr. Chairman, Director General, distinguished Members. It is an honor for me to address this 7th Ministerial Conference.
As countless studies have demonstrated over the last several months, the WTO's rules-based system promotes openness and predictability in global markets, and this leads to increased trade and improved prospects for economic growth in all of our Member economies. As our economic recovery begins and deepens worldwide, trade can and should play an important role in the restoration of global prosperity.
The global economy needs the WTO Members to deliver a strong outcome in the Doha Round of negotiations - and that is one that opens markets and creates significant new trading opportunities in agriculture, industrial goods and in services, generating global economic growth and development.
The United States is committed to achieving such an outcome, and I believe that success is possible in 2010. But substance will drive our progress, and success is not something that any one Member, or any small group of Members, can deliver or dictate. The circle of leadership within the WTO has grown broader and more inclusive and Each and every Member of this leadership group has a responsibility.
While developed countries will continue to have a significant role in the global economy, advanced developing countries are playing an ever-increasing role as well. According to the International Monetary Fund, 58 percent of global economic growth between now and 2014 will be provided by China, India, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and the ASEAN countries.
The creation of new trade flows and meaningful market opening, particularly in key emerging markets, is required to fulfill the development promise of Doha.
Success is not something that Negotiating Group Chairs, or our esteemed Director General, can deliver for us.
[While w]ork programs and stock takings [are] useful, we cannot confuse process and substance. All shortcuts will only lead to further delays and dead ends. There simply is no substitute for the hard work of negotiations in all formats among Members - ranging from large groups to direct bilateral engagement.
For our part, the United States' negotiating team is ready to move into the endgame. We have made our specific interests well known: that meaningful market opening is required to complete the Round. And we are looking for concrete signs from other members that they are ready to join us in that commitment. We welcome the opportunity to work with you to achieve the goal to which we have all committed ourselves."

WTO Opening Plenary
Opening Plenary of the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference at the International Conference Center in Geneva, Switzerland.

ARK at Plenary
Ambassador Kirk speaks at the Opening Plenary session.


VIDEO: Ambassador Kirk Talks About Working to Open Markets for American Exports

11/30/09 6:14am

As U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Kirk works to open up markets around the world for American businesses and workers. Earlier today, he recorded a short video about being in Geneva for the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference and how he is working to create more good American jobs by opening world markets to American exports. Watch the video below.

back to top

November 29, 2009

GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Attends Dinner Hosted by Australian Government

11/29/09 4:41pm

This evening in Geneva, Switzerland, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk attended a services-focused dinner hosted by the Australian government.

Earlier today, Ambassador Kirk met with Brazilian Trade Minister Celso Amorim and attended a reception hosted by the Indian Mission to the WTO.


GENEVA UPDATE: Ambassador Kirk Meets with Brazil's Minister Amorim

11/29/09 1:39pm

Ambassador Ron Kirk arrived in Geneva, Switzerland today for the 7th Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference. This afternoon, Ambassador Kirk met informally with Brazilian Trade Minister Celso Amorim. Ambassador Kirk and Minister Amorim discussed this week's ministerial events, and prospects for a balanced and ambitious conclusion to the Doha Round. Ambassador Kirk has stressed in recent months the need for key emerging markets, including Brazil, to provide further market openings to meet the Round's objectives.

This evening, Ambassador Kirk attended a reception for trade ministers and senior officials hosted by the Indian Mission to the WTO.

 

ARK and Sharma
Ambassador Kirk with Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.


"We Work to Generate Trade Opportunities for American Businesses and Workers"

11/29/09 10:30am

Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States Mission to the World Trade Organization Dave Shark recently sat down to talk about the day-to-day workings of the World Trade Organization. Dave works to generate trade opportunities for American businesses and workers. Watch the video with Dave below.


USTR Ron Kirk Arrives in Geneva, Switzerland for WTO Ministerial Meeting

11/29/09 9:36am

United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk arrived in Geneva, Switzerland today for the 7th Session of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference. While in Geneva, Kirk will meet multilaterally with trade ministers from America's WTO partner economies, and will hold a number of meetings on the margins with key trading partners and blocs. The ministerial is not a formal negotiating session, but an opportunity to take stock of the global trading system and to discuss the importance of keeping markets open and beneficial trade flowing at this time of economic crisis.

"When the world's markets are more open to American goods and services, and trade occurs in a rules-based system, American businesses get to make and sell more products and hire more workers at home. The United States engages with other economies and plays a leadership role at the World Trade Organization in order to boost American exports and grow the well-paid jobs Americans want and need," said Kirk. "This ministerial is an important opportunity for the WTO's 153 members to take stock of the trading system overall, to build on the foundation of our rules-based trading system, and to consider the potential of a balanced and ambitious conclusion to the Doha Round of world trade negotiations."

Kirk is scheduled to address the opening plenary session of the ministerial on Monday, November 30 at the International Conference Centre Geneva, and to participate in multilateral working sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Following the public closing conference of the ministerial meeting on Wednesday, Kirk will hold a news conference.

USTR meetings on the margins include, but are not limited to, sessions with ministers from a number of least-developed countries and with the African Group. Kirk will hold a number of bilateral meetings with key U.S. trading partners as well.


Aid for Trade

11/29/09 8:54am

The Aid for Trade initiative was launched four years ago at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong. Although the WTO is not a development agency, its members and other international organizations work together to advance development initiatives. Aid for Trade is one such initiative. Designed to help developing countries overcome constraints, build their economic infrastructure, and increase their competitiveness, Aid for Trade is a critical program that is helping developing countries realize their potential.

Through the Aid for Trade initiative USTR and U.S. development agencies like USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation are working with developing countries to ensure that trade needs are part of national development plans. By giving these countries the training and technical assistance necessary to succeed, the U.S. government is helping them build the capacity to take advantage of the opportunities available in the global trading system.

President Obama believes that increased trade can boost growth for developing countries and improve the quality of life of the world's poorest citizens. For the United States, supporting international development is a crucial element of overall trade policy. Each year, global trade lifts millions of people out of poverty by creating stable, well-paying jobs in many developing countries.

The Obama Administration is dedicated to expanding trade opportunities through the Doha Round, as well as through existing programs.


Watch Ambassador Kirk Live from Geneva

11/29/09 6:11am

On Monday, November 30, Ambassador Kirk will deliver remarks on behalf of the United States at the opening plenary session of the 7th Session of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference; On Wednesday, December 2, Ambassador Kirk will hold a closing press conference at the conclusion of the ministerial conference. The WTO plans to webcast these events live, and you should be able to see them here on the WTO website.

Monday, November 30, 2009
Opening Plenary Session
9:00 a.m. ET/3:00 p.m. Geneva
TIME APPROXIMATE/SUBJECT TO CHANGE
http://gaia.world-television.com/wto/20091130/plenary_session/min09_webcast_e.htm

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
USTR Closing Press Conference
2:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. Geneva
TIME APPROXIMATE/SUBJECT TO CHANGE
http://gaia.world-television.com/wto/20091130/press_conference/min09_webcast_pressconf_e.htm

Please note that the WTO recommends that you view test clips on these sites before the start of the conference to test your internet connection and media viewer software. The WTO has advised viewers who experience technical problems with these webcasts to contact World Television Support Center at support@world-television.com or to call +41-44-306-5166 (between 9 AM and 5 PM CET).

back to top

Joining the WTO

11/28/09 8:13am

The WTO accession process prepares prospective members to join the global trade community through an organization dedicated to fair, transparent, rules-based trade. That trading system offers job-creating opportunities in the international marketplace to businesses and workers around the world.

Since the WTO replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs in 1995, 25 countries and separate customs territories have completed the accession process and joined the WTO. Those Members include China, Nepal, Panama, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Ukraine. Currently 29 countries are working through the formal process of joining the WTO, including Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Russia and Serbia.

Every country or separate customs territory negotiates individualized terms for its accession with current WTO members. These terms specify how the prospective member will implement WTO standards, policies, and trade procedures. In addition, prospective members are expected to commit to specific market-opening actions, including addressing non-tariff barriers to trade.

WTO members apply special guidelines for the accession of countries that are designated by the United Nations as least developed countries (LDCs). The WTO also works to ensure that these prospective Members receive adequate technical assistance throughout the accession process. LDCs currently seeking WTO membership include Afghanistan, Bhutan, Laos, Samoa, and Yemen.

As a key member of the WTO, the United States plays an active role in accession negotiations. In addition to expanding the international trade community, the accession process presents a unique opportunity to expand market access for U.S. goods and services.

back to top

History of the WTO: Part Two

11/27/2009 4:06am

In April 1994, representatives from around the world gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco to sign a Declaration adopting the rules and commitments they had negotiated during Uruguay Round and providing for a new organization, the"World Trade Organization" (WTO). The WTO began operating on January 1, 1995.

The WTO is a member-driven organization that oversees existing international trade rules, serves as a forum for negotiating further trade liberalization, and provides a process for settling trade disputes. Trade agreements that the WTO administers lie at the core of the rules-based, multilateral trading system and most are applied by all 153 WTO Members.

The highest decision making body of the WTO, the Ministerial Conference, meets about every two years. The first WTO Ministerial Conference convened in Singapore in 1996. At the Conference, participants sat down to discuss the WTO's first two years and the progress members had made in carrying out the trade rules and commitments agreed during the Uruguay Round.

Ministerial Conferences followed in Geneva, Switzerland in 1998 and Seattle, Washington in 1999.

In 2001, the Ministerial Conference convened in Doha, Qatar. Participants focused on the need to generate more job-creating opportunities through trade. That focus led to the latest round of multilateral trade talks, known as the Doha Round. The aim of the Doha Round is to further reduce barriers to trade, as well as to assist the least developed countries expand their capacity to trade.

Ministerial Conferences in Cancun, Mexico (2003) and Hong Kong, China (2005) focused on advancing the Doha Round negotiations. Additional ministerial level negotiations on the Doha Round took place in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2006 and 2008.

The meeting beginning on November 30th in Geneva, Switzerland is the 7th WTO Ministerial Conference. The theme for the Ministerial is The WTO, the Multilateral Trading System and the Current Global Economic Environment. The, meetings will focus on the day-to-day work of the WTO, including reports on the status of the Doha Round negotiations.

back to top

History of the WTO: Part One

11/25/2009 11:52am

Although the World Trade Organization (WTO) is only 14 years old, its history can be traced back to a period just after World War II.

In 1947, the world's major trading countries signed the general agreement on tariffs and trade (GATT) which laid the ground rules for the multilateral trading system. After efforts to establish an international trade organization failed in 1948, the GATT also served as a provisional forum for members to address international trade matters. Over the years, GATT members conducted a series of multilateral negotiations known as "rounds" to lower trade barriers between them.

The first five GATT trade rounds after 1947 focused on lowering tariffs. The Kennedy round in the 1960s expanded discussions from tariff cuts to more general trade rules, leading to the negotiation of the GATT anti-dumping agreement. In the 1970s, participants in the Tokyo round of talks lowered tariffs further and concluded agreements -- which only some members joined -- on non-tariff trade barriers, such as technical standards.

The following round, launched in 1986, built upon the progress made in the Tokyo round and in previous negotiations. Known as the Uruguay round, it was, up to that time, the largest and most comprehensive trade round. In the Uruguay round, GATT members agreed to lower tariffs, address non-tariff barriers, and extend trade rules into several new areas, including trade in services and intellectual property.

At the conclusion of the Uruguay round, representatives from most of the 123 participants signed a declaration in Marrakesh, morocco creating the world trade organization and bringing the agreements and commitments concluded during the round under the new organization. On January 1, 1995, the WTO officially replaced the GATT and the informal forum it provided for more than four decades.

Today, the WTO is a vital international institution. It has 153 members and, collectively, they represent 95 percent of world trade.