When WTO officially commenced activities on 1 January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement, signed by 123 nations on 15 April 1994, that singular act replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which commenced in 1948.
As the largest international economic organization in the world, the WTO regulate trade in goods, services and intellectual property between participating countries by providing a framework for negotiating trade agreements and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants’ adherence to WTO agreements, which are signed by representatives of member governments and consequently ratified by their parliaments.
Most of the issues that the WTO focuses on derive from previous trade negotiations, especially from the Uruguay Round (1986–1994).
On 23 January 2017, the amendment to the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement marks the first time since the organization opened its doors in 1995 that WTO would be amended. One of the opportunities accorded by the amendment was to access affordable medicines under WTO rules.
All major decisions are made by the WTO’s member governments: either by ministers (who usually meet at least every two years) or by their ambassadors or delegates (who meet regularly in Geneva).With a view to achieving greater coherence in global economic policy making, the WTO cooperate, as appropriate, with the international Monetary Fund (IMF) and with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and its affiliated agencies.
As globalization proceeds in today’s society, the necessity of an International Organization to manage the trading systems has been of vital importance.
As the trade volume increases, issues such as protectionism, trade barriers, subsidies, violation of intellectual property are bond to arise due to the differences in the trading rules of every nation.
At the heart of the policy formulation and implementation of WTO initiatives is the Ministerial Conference called MC, which usually meets every two years. The MC11 will hold this December in Buenos Aires. The first MC in Africa (MC10) was in Nairobi, Kenya in 2015.
The organization is hinged on guiding principles which universal application. They are: non-discrimination, reciprocity, binding and enforceable commitments, transparency and safety values.
The non-discrimination matter is built on the structures of, Most Favoured Nation (MFN) rule, and the National Treatment Policy (NTP).Both are embedded in the main WTO rules on goods, services, and intellectual property, but their precise scope and nature differ across these areas. While the MFN rule requires that a WTO member must apply the same conditions on all trade with other WTO members the NTP on the other hand ensures that imported goods should be treated no less favorably than domestically produced.
Another area is Reciprocity which reflects both a desire to limit the scope of free-riding that may arise because of the MFN rule, and a desire to obtain better access to foreign markets. A related point is that for a nation to negotiate, it is necessary that the gain from doing so be greater than the gain available from unilateral liberalization.
Also, Binding and enforceable commitments, the tariff commitments made by WTO members in a multilateral trade negotiation and on accession are enumerated in a schedule (list) of concessions.
These schedules establish “ceiling bindings” which are subject to modification by member countries. If satisfaction is not obtained, the complaining country may invoke the WTO dispute settlement procedures.
Moreso, Transparency has been emphasized across WTO members hence they are required to publish their trade regulations, to maintain institutions allowing for the review of administrative decisions affecting trade, to respond to requests for information by other members, and to notify changes in trade policies to the WTO.
These internal transparency requirements are supplemented and facilitated by periodic country-specific reports (trade policy reviews) through the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM). Nigeria just underwent its 6th Trade Policy Review in 2017.
Critically, Safety values are made to have bearing on transactions because WTO’s agreements permit members to take measures to protect not only the environment but also public health, animal health and plant health.
The World Trade Organization serves as the mediator between the nations when such problems arise. WTO could be referred to as the product of globalization and also as one of the most important organizations in today’s globalized society.
The WTO is also a centre of economic research and analysis: regular assessments of the global trade picture in its annual publications and research reports on specific topics are produced by the organization. Finally, the WTO cooperates closely with the two other components of the Bretton Woods system, the IMF and the World Bank.
It was therefore gladdening that Nigeria took a major step in its commitment to improve ease of doing business through trade facilitation on January 20, 2017, when it submitted the instrument of acceptance of World Trade Organisation’s Protocol on Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) on the sideline of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
With this, Nigeria became the 107th WTO member state to ratify the agreement. Other African countries that have ratified include Botswana, Niger, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Zambia, Lesotho, Mali, Senegal, Swaziland, Gabon, Ghana and Mozambique.
Nigeria’s ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement is a reflection of her commitment to the WTO and a rules-based economy. It is evidence of the commitment to rapidly implement initiative on the creation of an enabling environment for business.
I was involved in several high-level participatory activities not with the intention to be appreciated but bearing in mind that, I have been in the Organised Private Sector (OPS) business for so long and have grasped that, there are massive inherent benefits to be derived from such platforms.
I anchored my belief on the fact, there is need for the OPS to demonstrate a genuine show of interest in contributing to the growth and development of the country most especially as they have inbuilt tendency to impact positively on the fortunes of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) which oils the engine of growth of many world economies.
Prince Kayode (SAN, CON, FCIArb) contributes this piece from Abuja and can be reached via [email protected]