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History and Debate of World Trade Organization
In operation since January 1, 1995, the World Trade Organization regulates trade between the 153 member nations who participate in the organization. The 153 member nations of the World Trade Organization comprise more than 97% of total world trade. The objective of the World Trade Organization is to stimulate economic growth and promote free trade between nations. The World Trade Organization provides a framework for the negotiation and formalization of trade agreements between the member nations as well as a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing World Trade Organization agreements that have been executed by government representatives of member nations.
Although the World Trade Organization technically operates on a one country, one vote system, votes are not actually ever taken. Instead, decision making in the organization is usually by consensus with bargaining power based primarily on relative market size. Although the use of consensus in decision making increases the likelihood that the ultimate decision will be widely accepted, it is generally a slow process that ultimately results in ambiguous agreements. Furthermore, the consensus decision-making usually occurs through a process of negotiations between small groups of nations as opposed to by consensus of all member nations.
WTO Debate Controversy
The practice of consensus decision-making has sparked a World Trade Organization debate, because critics contend that many of the developing country members of the World Trade Organization are often excluded from the informal negotiations and, therefore, are excluded from the main decision-making process. Furthermore, critics of the World Trade Organization's consensus model argue that it ultimately favors the United State and Europe due to their greater relative market size. These critics assert that the World Trade Organization is biased in favor of wealthy nations and multinational corporations and against smaller, poorer developing nations. In support of their position, critics contend that wealthy nations are able to maintain high import quotas and duties in certain products, thereby blocking imports from developing nations. Similarly, critics assert that the World Trade Organization maintains high protection of agriculture in developed nations while pressing developing nations to open their markets. Thus, opponents of the work of the World Trade Organization argue that the organization is actually widening the very sociological gap between the poor and the rich that it claims to be correcting.
Other opponents in the World Trade Organization debate argue that the World Trade Organization is so focused on free trade that it is ignoring issues such as labor and the environment. They contend that the organization actually promotes the agenda of wealthy multinational corporations that is aimed at free trade above the interests of working families, local communities, and the environment. These critics are concerned that an emphasis on trade will be devastating to world natural resources unless proper attention is paid to adequate environmental regulation and resource management. In support of their positions, critics point to the opposition by the World Trade Organization to the laws in the United States that protected sea turtles and those that protected dolphins as well as to the clean air regulations of the United States. Furthermore, the World Trade Organization opposed the laws of the European Union banning hormone-treated beef. The World Trade Organization opposed these laws and regulations as barriers to free trade. Furthermore, opponents argue that the needs and rights of the labor market of the member nations are being sacrificed on the altar of free trade.