Skip to Content

Resource Center

History of the WTO: Part Two

On November 30th, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk will be in Geneva, Switzerland for the 7th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization. This is a second ustr.gov installment on the history of this organization.

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.

To follow the WTO Ministerial, please visit the WTO Ministerial page here.