World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a rules-based member-driven international organization that deals with the rules of trade between its 157 Members and Observers. Canada endorses the goal of universal membership in the WTO, and participates in all WTO accession negotiations.

Since its establishment in 1995, the WTO has performed many important functions in the governance of the global trading system. The WTO administers the WTO trade agreements, provides a forum for trade negotiations, handles trade disputes, monitors national trade policies, and administers technical assistance and training for developing countries.

WTO Agreements

At the heart of the WTO are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by most of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments.

Most of the WTO agreements are the result of the Uruguay Round of negotiations (1986-1994). These agreements form the basis of the present WTO system. The Agreement establishing the WTO serves as an umbrella agreement, and includes several important annexed agreements which establish multilateral rules for trade in goods, services and intellectual property; provide mechanisms for enforcement of those rules (e.g., dispute settlement); and, for monitoring and reporting on countries’ trade policies.

For more information on the following WTO agreements, please see: WTO legal texts.

  • Agreement Establishing the WTO
  • Annex 1A General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
  • Annex 1B General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)
  • Annex 1C Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)
  • Annex 2 Dispute Settlement Understanding
  • Annex 3 Trade Policy Review Mechanism
  • Annex 4 Plurilateral Trade Agreements

For More information on understanding the WTO Agreements, please see Understanding the WTO: The Agreements.

Basic Principles of the Multilateral Trading System

There are several common principles in each of the agreements covering the three main trade areas (i.e., goods, services and intellectual property), most notably: Most-Favored-Nation and National Treatment.
The Most-Favored-Nation Principle (GATT 1994, Article 1; GATS, Article 2; TRIPS, Article 4) is designed to prevent countries from discriminating between trading partners (i.e., one must offer the same treatment offered to their most favorable partner to all other partners). However, there are notable exceptions to this principle that allow for members to offer preferential treatment to one or more other members through the negotiation of free trade agreements.

The National Treatment (GATT 1994, Article 3; GATS, Article 17; TRIPS, Article 3) Principle is designed to ensure that each countries’ exports will be treated fairly in other countries’ markets.
In addition to these principles of non-discrimination, the WTO Agreements prescribe trade that is more open, predictable and transparent, more competitive, more beneficial for less developed countries, and protects the environment. For more information on principles of the trading system, please see Principles of the Trading System.

Committee Work

In addition to the Goods Council, the Services Council and the Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Council that report to the General Council, there are a number of specialized committees, working groups and working parties dealing with the individual agreements covering a wide range of trade-related issues. These bodies also seek to ensure that the requirements prescribed in the WTO agreements are followed and are being properly implemented. For more information and access to working documents and latest reports, please consult the list below: