About the WTO

Know the World Trade Organisation’s tariffs and rules before you export.

About the WTO
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The World Trade Organisation (WTO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, currently has 159 members. South Africa has been a member since January 1995. The WTO facilitates trade and settles disputes. If, for instance, a country wants to trade with another, but faces trade barriers, the WTO is where these issues are thrashed out by the potential trading partners.
In some cases, the WTO supports these barriers, as when a consumer market requires protection.

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The WTO has a database of agreements between member countries as global signatories and between the trading countries individually. Some of the compromises reached in concluding the agreements that make up the WTO database are hard won and, naturally, disputes may arise in the interpretation of these agreements. each agreement thus contains a special dispute settlement process.

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Ensuring stability of policies
As mentioned, the objective of the WTO is to facilitate trade. This is achieved through giving members confidence that there will be no sudden changes in policy of any trading partner and ensuring that individuals, companies and governments know what the trade rules are around the world. The WTO is driven by its member states, but cannot operate without a secretariat that co-ordinates its activities.

The WTO website (wto.org) contains details of the customs tariffs and the codes used to describe various goods and services when making use of legally required documentation in the export or import of various goods and services.The trade policies adopted by South Africa and regional and other trade agreements, as well as the services that are available to member states, are all documented on the WTO website.

For example, the provision of services by individuals or companies of one member state to those of another member state is facilitated and the rules for such provisions are broadly outlined within the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

This agreement provides a guideline for non-discrimination between professionals of contracting states for the selling of services by individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, where such individuals (or companies) are engaged in professional visits, as opposed to a permanent provision of services within the other country. GATS also provides for ease of payment between service providers and consumers in different states, while ensuring that industry standards in the recipient country are maintained without any disguised protectionism.

Do your homework
Any farmer who already has an export destination, or is seeking a new one, where goods or services are to be sold, should take the trouble to ascertain the contents of any agreement in place between the export destination and the jurisdiction of the exporter, so that the applicable tariffs and rules are known in advance of operations commencing.

Peter O’Halloran is an advocate in private practice.