World Trade Organization Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The World Trade Organization’s purpose is to improve the economic standing of its members. The United States and other member states have seen increased global trade, greater access to cheaper goods, and better international relations with one another. However, the WTO is somewhat controversial, because many nations see the organization as catering to the interests of large countries, such as the United States, while ignoring others.

After World War II, many questions arose about what sorts of global institutions could be created to facilitate better economic and political cooperation in the international community. The founding of the United Nations created some assurance that political disputes could be settled through peaceful means, instead of through war. The General Agreement on Tariffs and TradeGeneral Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was established in 1947 to remove trade barriers, lower tariffs, and create the free movement of goods between nations that signed the treaty, including the United States. The agreement was relatively successful in accomplishing some of its aims, but it was limited in its abilities, because members sometimes chose not to follow its mandates.World Trade Organization

The GATT remained a force in the global economy up until 1995, when trade negotiations resulted in the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO had the same purpose as the GATT, to create the free movement of goods between its member states, but it sought to hold its members more accountable to lower their tariffs than could a treaty alone. The WTO also included in its aims the improvement of national service sectors rather than just industries. The United States and the other members of GATT were the first members of the WTO when it was created on January 1, 1995.

As an international body, the WTO has been extremely successful in liberalizing trade among its member states. Those states have enjoyed great economic benefits resulting from the removal of tariffs. The ability to trade freely with other nations has led to huge economic growth for the United States, and the country has experienced an increase in the amount of choices in goods that its consumers may purchase, as well as a reduction in prices for items such as food and clothing. By all accounts, the WTO has made positive developments in global trade. However, some critics would say that not all countries have experienced the economic growth or have benefited from liberalized trade to the extent that the United States has. Some smaller member countries have yet to see the economic benefits associated with free trade. The WTO has therefore been criticized as being one-sided, benefiting trade giants such as the United States at the expense of smaller nations.

Further Reading
  • Matsushita, Mitsuo, Petros Mavroidis, and Thomas Schoenbaum. The World Trade Organization: Law, Practice, and Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Narlikar, Amrita. The World Trade Organization: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Asian trade with the United States

Canadian trade with the United States

Chinese trade with the United States

European trade with the United States

Gadsden Purchase

International economics and trade

Japanese trade with the United States

Latin American trade with the United States

Mexican trade with the United States

Categories: History Content