The Rise of the WTO Saga 

The World Trade Organization, an intergovernmental organization that regulates and facilitates international trade, was founded on 1 January 1995. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. As WTO is world’s biggest economic body recognised globally, its members share around 98% of trade executed worldwide. 

WTO was created as an outcome of the Uruguay Round of Negotiations (1986-1994) – the 8th round of multilateral trade negotiations conducted within the framework of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

In order to become a member of the WTO, a government must align its economic and trade policies with WTO regulations and engage in negotiations regarding its entry terms with the WTO membership.

Presently, WTO is headed by its Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is an American-Nigerian economist. She has been serving in this revered position since March 2021. She is the first woman and the first African to serve as Director-General of WTO. Her present tenure with WTO will expire on 31st August 2025.

Its website reveals that WTO is the only global organisation that looks after the trade rules between the nations. Central to its operations are the WTO agreements, which have been negotiated and endorsed by most of the world’s trading nations and approved by their respective legislatures. The primary objective of the WTO is to facilitate the smooth, predictable, and unrestricted flow of trade. Studies have shown that over the years, WTO has given an impetus to trade and reduced trade barriers.

By providing a framework for negotiating trade agreements, WTO facilitates trade in goods, services, and intellectual property among participating countries. Members of WTO member states sign these agreements  and ratify them by their legislatures.

The WTO’s top decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference, which typically occurs biennially. Beneath it, the General Council, along with several other councils and committees, exists. The General Council is the principal day-to-day decision-making authority within the WTO’s scope. It convenes multiple times annually in Geneva.

Among the WTO’s multiple roles are its role as a forum for negotiating trade agreements and its role in settling trade disputes between its members. The member governments make the primary decisions concerning the WTO. These decisions are typically made either by ministers, who convene at least biennially, or by their ambassadors or delegates, who hold regular meetings in Geneva.

Most of the WTO’s annual budget is funded by contributions from its members. These contributions are determined by a formula that considers each member’s proportion of international trade.

India in WTO 

India has been a part of the WTO since its establishment, which has subsequently enhanced India’s export competitiveness. As a developing nation, India has actively participated in the operations of the WTO, notably by articulating its own concerns and those of the broader developing world. At the Doha WTO conference in 2001, India emerged as a candid advocate for the developing bloc. 

On July 13th, the involved parties informed the WTO of their mutual agreement on the issues raised in both disputes. Following Article 12.7 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding, the panel reports provide a concise overview of the disputes and acknowledge the solutions that have been reached.

Trade disputes involving India are not uncommon, and the WTO has frequently played a role in their resolution. India is currently striving to address a WTO import duty dispute with the European Union concerning specific information and technology products through ongoing negotiations for a proposed free trade agreement.

On December 14th, 2023, India announced its decision to appeal the panel report in the case initiated by the European Union in “India — Tariff Treatment on Certain Goods” (DS582). The report prepared by the panel was shared on 17th April, and the appeal was distributed among the WTO members on 14 December. 

In May 2023, India lodged an appeal in a comparable dispute case raised by Japan concerning the tariff treatment India applies to specific goods in the information and communications technology sector.

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