1st June, 2003
In September the World Trade Organisation will be holding its fifth ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico. Simon Retallack explains what is at stake.
In the aftermath of WWII, the world’s governments, believing a world united in trade would also be one united in peace, sought to develop a vast global trading network. To this end they set up the Global Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (Gatt) – a set of rules for the regulation of trade.
As the years went on and global trade grew unimaginably large, Gatt was continually modified and became increasingly complicated and unwieldy. The solution was to create a new organisation – one that would decide the rules under which all trade would be conducted, and which would have the power to enforce those rules and impose huge financial sanctions on nations that failed to comply. That organisation was the World Trade Organisation.
Whereas Gatt dealt only with trade in tangible products such as bananas, cotton or steel, the WTO’s remit is far broader; its powers extend over investment policy, patent law and the provision of services like healthcare and education – services that have traditionally been seen as the responsibility of national governments. Unlike the governments whose responsibilities it has assumed, however, the WTO is unelected, global in reach and run totally by and for the...
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