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ECONOMICS REPORT - The World Trade Organization, Part 3 - 2003-12-11

Broadcast: December 12, 2003

This is Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English Economics Report.

This week -- the third and final part of our series on the World Trade Organization.

In September, there was a lot of news when the Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico, ended without new agreements. Developing nations blamed wealthy ones; wealthy nations blamed developing ones. In any case, trade agreements take time. The last series of negotiations, called the Uruguay Round, took seven-and-a-half years. That was a lot longer than planned. But it established the World Trade Organization in nineteen-ninety-five.

The Ministerial Conference represents the highest level of the WTO. A conference must take place at least once every two years. High-level officials from member nations meet and can make decisions on all trade issues.

The General Council performs the everyday work of the WTO. The General Council is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The WTO has almost one-hundred-fifty members. All of the nations are represented on the General Council.

One of its duties is to act as what is called the Dispute Settlement Body. The WTO makes rules, but it also tries to settle problems between members. The Dispute Settlement Body carries out hearings. The process to settle a case generally takes fifteen months. The council also acts as the Trade Policy Review Body.

Below the General Council are three separate councils. These deal with trade in goods, services and intellectual property. And below these councils are many committees. Specialists from member nations take part in the work of the WTO.

Each member of the World Trade Organization has an equal vote. There is no Security Council like at the United Nations, or a board of directors like at the World Bank. The WTO says everything it does is the result of negotiations.

Over three-fourths of the members are developing nations. So all WTO agreements contain special provisions for them. These include longer time periods to meet the requirements. The WTO also offers training and technical assistance.

One of the main ideas governing the WTO is that all members should trade equally with each other. It says trade with a member nation should be as simple as trade within a member nation.

The World Trade Organization employs about five-hundred-fifty people. Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand began a three-year term as director-general in September of last year.

This VOA Special English Economics Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Bob Doughty.