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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


WTO meeting fails the world

Feature story | 14 November, 2001 at 0:00

As trade liberalisation talks ground to a close, the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior set sail from offshore the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting site in Doha, Qatar.

Safe Trade in the 21st Century

Publication | 1 October, 2001 at 0:00

Greenpeace comprehensive proposals and recommendations for the 4th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation.

Remi Parmentier during the WTO meeting in

Image | 28 November, 1999 at 1:00

Remi Parmentier during the WTO meeting in Seattle.

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