World Trade Organisation (WTO)

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is the only international organisation to regulate the commercial relations of States at the global level. It constitutes the legal and institutional keystone of the multilateral trade system.

OFCOM and the WTO

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) is empowered to represent Switzerland within the WTO and cooperates with OFCOM in the areas for which the Office is responsible.

Switzerland has liberalised its market in the telecommunications services sector, but not in the audio-visual sector.

In this regard, OFCOM's divisions ensure that media diversity and public finance of broadcasting are assured in Switzerland, in accordance with the Federal Council’s audio-visual policy as defined within the framework of the revision of the Radio and Television Act (RTVA).

Activities and structure of the WTO

The WTO was created on 1 January 1995 and now has 161 Member States. Previously, there were only multilateral rules governing the trade in goods on the basis of a "provisional" agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1947). This was incorporated into the WTO at the time of its creation. It is designated GATT 1994 to indicate that in legal terms it is a different agreement from GATT 1947 which it replaces.

The WTO manages and supervises some thirty multilateral agreements and two plurilateral agreements (i.e. agreements with voluntary/non-obligatory participation, applying only to the signatories in the area of public contracts and the trade in civil aircraft). The rules governing world trade have thus acquired a much broader scope under the aegis of the WTO. The agreements aim at the progressive liberalisation of international trade which is negotiated within the framework of the negotiation cycles.

The WTO is also a forum for multilateral negotiations to develop economic relations. The principal players in the WTO are the Members themselves. Their governments are all equal within the supreme bodies, the various committees and the working groups of the WTO. All important decisions are negotiated between the members, under conditions which are as transparent as possible, and are normally adopted by consensus, either at ministerial level (at the time of the ministerial Conference, which meets at least every two years), or at delegate level in the committees of the WTO. The fundamental provisions of the WTO, in particular, can be modified only after approval by all the Members (entry into force after ratification by each member according to national procedures provided for by their Constitution).

Negotiations are under way in Geneva in order to widen the coverage of the products of the plurilateral Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and to conclude a plurilateral agreement between "volunteers" relating to services (TISA)

Specialist staff
Last modification 29.12.2015

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