IN THE NEWS #486 - World Trade Organization

By Caty Weaver

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Earlier this week, the European Union and China agreed on some important trade issues. China reached a similar agreement with the United States last week. These agreements have cleared the way for China to join the World Trade Organization. The process of admitting China is expected to begin at a W-T-O meeting Thursday in Geneva.

One-hundred-forty-one nations are W-T-O members now. These countries are responsible for more than ninety percent of the world's trade. The main goal of the W-T-O is to keep world trade flowing as smoothly and freely as possible.

The World Trade Organization was established in Nineteen-Ninety-Five. It developed out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade or GATT. GATT was created in Nineteen-Forty-Eight after the end of World War Two. It led to a series of international trade negotiations which established a world trading system. The W-T-O supervises and makes improvements to that system.

The W-T-O organizes trade negotiations and settles trade disputes. It supervises trade agreements reached by member nations. It also provides developing countries with technical assistance and training programs in trade issues. And, it cooperates with other international organizations.

The top decision-making group of the W-T-O is the Ministerial Conference. It meets at least once every two years in different cities around the world. W-T-O members reach agreements by debate and compromise. W-T-O agreements then go to the governments of each country for approval or rejection.

At first the trade agreements among the countries dealt mainly with goods. GATT was designed to lower import taxes and remove other barriers to trade in goods. However, W-T-O members later agreed on trade rules for the service industry. This industry includes banks, communications companies, hotels and transport businesses.

The W-T-O also supervises an agreement on what is called intellectual property. That agreement provides rules to protect trade and investment in ideas and creative activities.

The W-T-O says its agreements permit buyers and producers more choices in the materials and services that they use. The organization also says exporters can feel secure about the openness of foreign markets. The W-T-O says the result is a world economy that is stronger and more cooperative.

However, not everyone approves of the work of World Trade Organization. In the last few years, there have been major demonstrations at meetings of the W-T-O, World Bank and other similar organizations. Some of the protests have been violent.

The protestors oppose opening world markets to increased trade. They say the W-T-O and its allies are making industrial nations rich by keeping developing nations poor.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.

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