Extracted 07JUN2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WTO
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an organization that intends to supervise and liberalize international trade. The organization officially commenced on January 1, 1995 under the Marrakech Agreement, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which commenced in 1948. The organization deals with regulation of trade between participating countries; it provides a framework for negotiating and formalizing trade agreements, and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants' adherence to WTO agreements which are signed by representatives of member governments and ratified by their parliaments.
The WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), was established after World War II in the wake of other new multilateral institutions dedicated to international economic cooperation — notably the Bretton Woods institutions known as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A comparable international institution for trade, named the International Trade Organization was successfully negotiated. The ITO was to be a United Nations specialized agency and would address not only trade barriers but other issues indirectly related to trade, including employment, investment, restrictive business practices, and commodity agreements. But the ITO treaty was not approved by the U.S. and a few other signatories and never went into effect. In the absence of an international organization for trade, the GATT would over the years "transform itself" into a de facto international organization.
The WTO has 153 members (almost all of the 123 nations participating in the Uruguay Round signed on at its foundation, and the rest had to get membership). The 27 states of the European Union are represented also as the European Communities. WTO members do not have to be full sovereign nation-members. Instead, they must be a customs territory with full autonomy in the conduct of their external commercial relations. Thus Hong Kong (as "Hong Kong, China" since 1997) became a GATT contracting party, and the Republic of China (ROC) (commonly known as Taiwan, whose sovereignty has been disputed by the People's Republic of China or PRC) acceded to the WTO in 2002 under the name of "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" (Chinese Taipei).
A number of non-members (30) are observers at WTO proceedings and are currently negotiating their membership. The full list of WTO observers are: 1. Afghanistan 2. Algeria 3. Andorra 4. Azerbaijan 5. The Bahamas 6. Belarus 7. Bhutan 8. Bosnia and Herzegovina 9. Comoros 10. Equatorial Guinea 11. Ethiopia 12. Islamic Republic of Iran 13. Iraq 14. Kazakhstan 15. Lao People's Democratic Republic, or Laos 16. Lebanese Republic 17. Liberia 18. Libyan Arab Jamahiriya 19. Montenegro 20. Russian Federation 21. Samoa 22. Sao Tomé and Principe 23. Serbia 24. Seychelles 25. Sudan 26. Syrian Arab Republic 27. Tajikistan 28. Uzbekistan 29. Vanuatu 30. Yemen
Russia is the biggest economy outside WTO and after the completion of Russia's accession, Iran would be the biggest economy outside the WTO. With the exception of the Holy See, observers must start accession negotiations within five years of becoming observers. Some international intergovernmental organizations are also granted observer status to WTO bodies. 14 states and 2 territories so far have no official interaction with the WTO.
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13, It was contemplated that the GATT would be applied for several years until the ITO came into force. However, since the ITO was never brought into being, the GATT gradually became the focus for international governmental cooperation on trade matters (P. van den Bossche, The Law and Policy of the World Trade Organization, 81; J.H. Jackson, Managing the Trading System, 134).
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