International Trade Organization
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international body whose purpose is to promote free trade by persuading countries to abolish import tariffs and other barriers (“Profile: World”, 2005). The organization is also based on a multilateral system where trade is conducted without discrimination throughout the world trade system, and countries enjoined in the system cannot normally discriminate between products and services of their own and their trading partners.
The principle of the Most Favored Nation (MFN) treatment observed by WTO characterizes it as a multilateral organization. Thus, WTO has become the embodiment of globalization and multilateralism. The organization basically deals with the rules of trade between nations at a global or near-global level but it also has other important functions and purposes such as to facilitate trade negotiations and forums; to provide a venue for settling disputes between governments and to police free trade agreements (“What is”,).
The Organization also interprets trade agreements when conflict and dispute arise between countries over trading issues, and upholds the rules of international trade by empowering member countries to impose trade sanctions against countries that fail to abide by the rules and trade agreements. The organization originated from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) but it has a broader scope such that GATT is just a series of multilateral trade negotiations whose goal is to stimulate trade by lowering trade barriers whereas the WTO has stronger dispute settlement procedures (Mingst 2004).
The highest decision making body of the WTO is the Ministerial Conference which has to meet at least every two years to bring together all WTO members and is a venue for taking decisions on all matters under any of the multilateral trade agreements (“Ministerial Conferences”). The conference is also a venue for negotiating global trade deals otherwise referred to as “trade rounds”. “International Trade” “page_#2” One of the widely talked and debated of these trade rounds is the Doha Development Round which commenced during the fourth WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar in November 2001.
The objective of the Doha development agenda, according to optimists, is to make trade fairer for the poor and developing countries (“ Make trade”) while opponents claim that the Doha agenda will overlap with the nations’ domestic laws and trading policies and will be detrimental especially to the poor countries. During the Doha negotiations, proponents of several issues and agenda “promised to ensure that the Trade Related-Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement would give developing countries enough flexibility to cope with public health crises” (Clare 2003).
Proponents also promised real progress on agricultural market access and action on export subsidies; promised service negotiations which offer benefits for developing countries; promised to tackle tariff peaks and escalation as well as non-tariff barriers and promised a review of special and differential treatment across all WTO business areas to make them more effective (Clare 2003). While these objectives and goals look very promising and enticing, the negotiations have been very slow. WTO members cannot arrive at an agreement that can be acceptable for all members.
The Doha trade rounds provoked much protest and criticism in that, protesters claim, the declarations gives the developed nations more control over world trade policies and thus worsen inequality in the rules of trade. From the standpoint of politicians and businessmen from the developed nations, the Doha round would enhance and increase international trade which would be beneficial to the economy and help in the alleviation of poverty; and enhance international cooperation by proving opportunity to have dialogue with the developing countries.
Protesters inclusive of developing nations and labor groups however claim that these facts are already acknowledged and that the real concerns from the protest groups and developing countries “is not whether there “International Trade” “page_#3” should be trade or not, but what the current form of international trade is and what its impacts are; what the rules of the trade agreements are; who benefits; who doesn’t; is the WTO an appropriate body accomplishing these objectives to enhance fair and just global trade, and so on” (Shah 2002).
As for intellectual property rights for example, the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS agreement that defines how products can be protected from piracy has been an object of much controversy because of the manner on how patent processes work and what can or cannot get patented (Shah 2002).
Opponents to the regime consider TRIPS as a way of stripping opportunity and denying technology to the poor nations and protecting the investments and profits of the richer nations. For example, in genetically engineered food section, the indigenous knowledge that has been existent for many years in some developing nations has been patented by large companies of developed nations without consent from the indigenous communities (Shah 2002).
The TRIPS agreement would result to the developing nations to “buy back” the knowledge with originated from them from the developed countries that have patented the rights to use such knowledge. In addition to this, patent related issues result to difficulty among countries to produce more affordable medicines which consequently contributed to the death of many of the poor nations’ people.