Institutional structure of the WTO: treaty-making, decision-making, and dispute settlement
In initial negotiations after World War II for the creation of a multilateral trading system, negotiating countries failed to adopt the Havana Charter, which would have led to the creation of a comprehensive International Trade Organization (ITO), as a partner to the World Bank and IMF. The ITO never came into existence but the GATT, as a provisional agreement intended to preserve the tariff reduction commitments of the parties until the establishment of the ITO, by default became a permanent framework for the multilateral trading system. It established an anaemic institutional structure that member countries elaborated over time.
The WTO, established in 1995 to serve as an umbrella organization that includes the GATT, serves as a forum for negotiation and treaty revision over time, as a locus for quasi-legislative decision-making, and as a forum for dispute settlement regarding the WTO agreements. Treaty revision generally requires unanimity, although it is possible to make plurilateral agreements within the WTO system, and it is theoretically possible that amendments to the WTO treaty could be implemented without unanimity. Decision-making also is formally permitted without unanimity, but as a matter of practice it requires consensus, meaning that no member objects. Dispute settlement was revised significantly at the establishment of the WTO to provide that adjudicative decisions would attain legal effect unless a consensus is established to deny legal effect – the reverse of the previous rule.
The governance structure of the WTO system comprises the Ministerial Conference, which meets every two years,...
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