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Rainbow Warrior sails into Doha to challenge the WTO to force the US to commit to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

What is the WTO?

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is one of the most powerful institutions in the world. It oversees the global trade in goods and services. There are currently 146 member countries of the WTO.

The WTO's primary aim is to serve the private sector rather than governments: 'Although negotiated and signed by governments, the goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters and importers conduct their business.'

This view of the world deletes important elements such as the environment, the hundreds of millions of poor people who produce for themselves (not for markets) as well as many other social and human rights issues.

When the WTO was set up in 1995, the majority of developing countries were not at the table and were barely consulted. As a result, the WTO essentially protects multinational corporations based in the North and acts as a tool of rich and powerful countries - notably the US, the EU, Japan and Canada.

Although the majority of other WTO members are developing countries from Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America, many of them have little to say in decisions that are taken at WTO meetings. Smaller countries are blocked from entering meetings and don't have enough to offer from an economic standpoint to have any real power.

Not surprisingly, even though the WTO is a fairly new institution, there has been public scepticism and concern about how it functions since the beginning. Find out more about previous WTO meetings.

The WTO came into existence after a long series of negotiations that took place between countries from 1986 to 1994. It is made up of a series of agreements and incorporates the old General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a set of global rules that governed trade in goods.

But while the GATT only focused on trade in goods, the WTO's rules were extended to embrace many other topics, including intellectual property, investment, services, telecommunications and financial services (banking).

The latest updates


Banned: GE Rice Imports

Feature story | 29 September, 2006 at 19:51

Just weeks after we uncovered US rice on supermarket shelves in Europe contained illegal genetically engineered (GE) rice, the scandal keeps growing with more illegal GE rice being discovered. In the latest blow for the GE industry, the world's...

Genetic Engineering and the WTO

Publication | 28 September, 2006 at 2:00

Analysis of the Report in the ‘EC-Biotech’ Case:A step backwards for international environmental law, but not the end of GE restrictions

Deadly Subsidies

Publication | 31 May, 2006 at 2:00

How government subsidies are destroying the oceans and forests and why the CBD rather than the WTO should stop this peverse use of public money.

GE insect resistant (Bt) maize in Europe:

Publication | 13 May, 2006 at 2:00

Maize has been genetically engineered (GE) in a number of ways to produce different types of GE maize, including pharm GE maize types, which produce pharmaceuticals in the plant. However, commercial GE maize consists of only two major types,...

EU and US GE dispute at WTO

Publication | 12 May, 2006 at 19:26

Greenpeace briefing paper on the EU-US dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on genetically engineered (GE) organisms

WTO ruling: GE chess game ends in stalemate

Feature story | 12 May, 2006 at 2:00

In a three-year game of international chess, the EU and US squared off at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in what was billed as a winner takes all game. At stake, consumer choice about what they put on their plate: the food they want to eat...

The US and EU are split over GE.

Image | 12 May, 2006 at 2:00

The US and EU are split over GE.

WTO Hong Kong 2005 Position

Publication | 2 December, 2005 at 1:00

The 6th WTO Ministerial Conference is set to take place in Hong Kong, China from the 13th to 18th of December 2005. After the collapse of the last Ministerial meeting in Cancun in 2003, governments aim to ensure at Hong Kong, that the “Doha...

Is the WTO the only way?

Publication | 2 December, 2005 at 1:00

This briefing paper addresses the need to secure a safe political and legal space for the environment and outlines a number of alternative approaches, which would enable governments to move the current negotiations on the relationship between...

Trading away our last ancient forests

Publication | 2 December, 2005 at 1:00

The threats to forests from trade liberalization under the WTOVast tracts of ancient forest around the world stand on the brink of extinction. 10 million hectares are vanishing every year, or a soccer pitch every two seconds. This updated study...

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