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A Brief History of the World Trade Organization

A listener in Vietnam, the newest member, asks about the WTO. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Correction Attached

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

A question from Vietnam. Listener Nguyen Minh Tan wants to know more about the World Trade Organization and its history.

The World Trade Organization came into existence in nineteen ninety-five. It operates a system of trade rules. It serves as a place for nations to settle disputes and negotiate agreements to reduce trade barriers. The newest of its one hundred fifty members, Vietnam, joined in January.

But the roots of the W.T.O. date back to World War Two and the years that followed.

In nineteen forty-four, a meeting took place in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire: the International Monetary Conference. There, negotiators agreed to create the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But they could not agree on an organization to deal with international trade.

Three years later, in nineteen forty-seven, twenty-three nations approved the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT. It was meant to be temporary. Trade negotiations under GATT were carried out in a series of talks called rounds. The first round lowered import taxes on one-fifth of world trade. Later rounds produced additional cuts, and negotiators added more issues.

The sixth round began in nineteen sixty-three. It was called the Kennedy Round after the murder of President John F. Kennedy. The results included an agreement against trade dumping. This is when one country sells a product in another country at an unfairly low price.

The eighth round of talks began in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in nineteen eighty-six. The Uruguay Round lasted almost twice as long as planned. In all, one hundred twenty-three nations took part in seven-and-a-half years of work. They set time limits for future negotiations. They also agreed to create a permanent system to settle trade disputes.

In April of nineteen ninety-four, most of those one hundred twenty-three nations signed an agreement. It replaced GATT with the World Trade Organization.

The W.T.O. launched a new round on development issues in Doha, Qatar, in November of two thousand one. These talks were supposed to end by January of two thousand five. But negotiators could not agree on issues involving agricultural protections. The current round has been suspended since last July.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. Next week, more about the W.T.O. I'm Bob Doughty.


Correction: As noted in part two of this report, negotiations in the Doha round of world trade talks restarted early this year after being suspended in July 2006.