Why You Should Care About the World Trade Organization

Why You Should Care About the World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international body concerned about actions which effect trade. It was established January 1, 1995, as part of the Uruguay Round Agreements of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The WTO has 135 member nations (as of November 1999). The WTO is a family of 18 agreements; 14 are multilateral and therefore apply to all members, and four plurilateral agreements which apply to voluntary signatories to a specific agreement.

The WTO sets standards and also has a dispute resolution function. Any WTO member nation may bring a complaint against the policies of another member nation according to the requirements of a specific agreement. If the WTO rules against a particular law, the affected member nation is responsible for taking steps to bring their laws into compliance with the WTO agreement. Even though the member nations of the WTO are national governments, the WTO agreements limit the power and prerogatives of governments at all levels.

One of the plurilateral agreements is the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). This action limits the purchasing and economic development policies of national governments, and in countries with a federal system it can limit state and local policies as well. Unlike most of the WTO agreements, the GPA currently covers only 25 member countries, including the United States and all members of the European Union. It additionally covers 37 U.S. states.

The GPA contains several key provisions that should concern United Methodists. For example, the GPA sets performance standards whereby you cannot specify a production method; in other words, you could not require a certain recycled content or prohibit products made with child or slave labor. Also under the GPA, nations cannot be singled out for better or worse treatment than any other, regardless of their human rights violations or environmental record.

More information about the WTO may be found at http://www.wto.org/wto/ govt/agrmnt.htm

This article edited from a document produced by Sustainable America, 42 Broadway, Suite 1740, New York, NY 10004-1617, at www.sanetwork.org



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