The WTO Secretariat is located in Geneva. It has around 450 staff and is headed by its Director-General, Mr. Renato Ruggiero, and four deputy directors-general. Its responsibilities include the servicing of WTO delegate bodies with respect to negotiations and the implementation of agreements. It has a particular responsibility to provide technical support to developing countries, and especially the least-developed countries. WTO economists and statisticians provide trade performance and trade policy analyses while its legal staff assist in the resolution of trade disputes involving the interpretation of WTO rules and precedents. Much of the Secretariat’s work is concerned with accession negotiations for new members and providing advice to governments considering membership.
The WTO budget is around US$83 million (105 million Swiss Francs) with individual contributions calculated on the basis of shares in the total trade conducted by WTO members. Part of the WTO budget also goes to the International Trade Centre.
How countries join the WTO
Most WTO members are previously GATT members who have signed the Final Act of the Uruguay Round and concluded their market access negotiations on goods and services by the Marrakesh meeting in 1994. A few countries which joined the GATT later in 1994, signed the Final Act and concluded negotiations on their goods and services schedules, also became early WTO members. Other countries that had participated in the Uruguay Round negotiations concluded their domestic ratification procedures only during the course of 1995, and became members thereafter.
Aside from these arrangements which relate to “original” WTO membership, any other state or customs territory having full autonomy in the conduct of its trade policies may accede to the WTO on terms agreed with WTO members.
In the first stage of the accession procedures the applicant government is required to provide the WTO with a memorandum covering all aspects of its trade and economic policies having a bearing on WTO agreements. This memorandum becomes the basis for a detailed examination of the accession request in a working party.
Alongside the working party’s efforts, the applicant government engages in bilateral negotiations with interested member governments to establish its concessions and commitments on goods and its commitments on services. This bilateral process, among other things, determines the specific benefits for WTO members in permitting the applicant to accede. Once both the examination of the applicant’s trade regime and market access negotiations are complete, the working party draws up basic terms of accession.
Finally, the results of the working party’s deliberations contained in its report, a draft protocol of accession, and the agreed schedules resulting from the bilateral negotiations are presented to the General Council or the Ministerial Conference for adoption. If a two-thirds majority of WTO members vote in favour, the applicant is free to sign the protocol and to accede to the Organization; when necessary, after ratification in its national parliament or legislature.
Assisting developing and transition economies
Developing countries accounted for 97 of the total GATT membership of 128 at the end of 1994 and, together with countries currently in the process of “transition” to market-based economies, they are expected to play an increasingly important role in the WTO as the Organization’s membership expands. As a consequence, much attention is paid to the special needs and problems of developing and transition economies. For instance, the WTO Secretariat, alone or in cooperation with other international organizations, conducts missions and seminars and provides specific, practical technical cooperation for governments and their officials dealing with accession negotiations, implementing WTO commitments or seeking to participate effectively in multilateral negotiations. Courses and individual assistance is given on particular WTO activities including dispute settlement and trade policy reviews. Moreover, developing countries, especially the least-developed among them, are helped with trade and tariff data relating to their own export interests and to their participation in WTO bodies.
The WTO Secretariat has also continued GATT’s programme of training courses. These take place in Geneva twice a year for officials of developing countries. Since their inception in 1955 and up to the end of 1994, the courses have been attended by nearly 1400 trade officials from 125 countries and 10 regional organizations. Since 1991, special courses have been held each year in Geneva for officials from the former centrally-planned economies in transition to market economies.