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The World Trade Organization and International Trade (Explained)

By Karen Lynch

Though international trade growth appeared to slow beginning in 2016, the longer view reveals significant long-term growth, helped in recent years by the rise of digital trade and the entry of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). But SMEs don't enter international trade lightly, given hurdles in the form of the various tariffs, quotas, embargoes, sanctions and other measures that nations impose, and similarly challenging administrative hindrances to the movement of goods through customs and other border procedures.

Enter the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO's primary goal is to take the friction out of global commerce, ensuring that trade among nations can flow across borders in a smooth and predictable manner. That's not an insignificant endeavor.


This multipart series explores the WTO's purpose and mission, what "WTO rules" means, and new and emerging types of free trade agreements.


Part One: The WTO and International Trade


International businesses have had a renewed focus on the WTO in 2017, amid wide-ranging debate about the future of international trade itself. The fact is, international trade is facing challenges, and leaders in business and government are engaged in a fundamental review of its policies and institutions, including the WTO. This article puts the WTO in perspective for companies conducting international trade – where it is today, how it got here, and what's at stake. Read article …


Part Two: WTO and the Rules of Global Trade


Governments, journalists and other observers of international trade routinely reference "WTO rules." So, what are WTO rules, anyway? Simply stated, WTO rules constitute the playbook for global trade – and some business groups seek to expand and update them. Read article …


Part Three: WTO Global Trade Negotiations Add New Types of Deals


Public policymakers and business leaders are spurring the WTO to continue developing new kinds of international trade policy agreements, especially since the current Doha Round of global trade negotiations has eluded conclusion for more than 15 years. These include the recently ratified Trade Facilitation Agreement, sector-specific agreements and "plurilateral" agreements (within subsets of WTO member nations). In the run-up to the WTO's Ministerial Conference in December 2017, the global trade community is calling for even more new deals. Read article …


Part Four: The WTO and Regional Agreements on International Trade


Bilateral, regional and multilateral trade talks have become a source of business uncertainty in 2017 – even though their intent is to ease cross-border transactions and international trade flows. The WTO is also seeking to establish a workable balance between its multilateral mandate and the proliferating bilateral and regional accords. Read article …


Part Five: New WTO Accord Aims to Facilitate International Trade


Some say it is the biggest multilateral trade deal ever. Others call it a more "aspirational" accord, suggesting that lags and wrinkles ahead could hinder full implementation. Still, the general sentiment in the global business and policy world is that the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement, which entered force on February 22, 2017, is a very positive development in the otherwise uncertain arena of international trade. Read article …

Karen Lynch - The Author

The Author

Karen Lynch

Karen Lynch is a journalist who has covered global business, technology and policy in New York, Paris and Washington, DC, for more than 30 years. Karen also is a principal at Content Marketing Partners.

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