WTO, Genf

WTO, Genf, © StV-AT


The World Trade Organization

The Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) came into being in 1995 as the successor to what was then known as the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). The WTO aims at ensuring greatest possible transparency of trade policies and at negotiating, administrating and monitoring agreed rules for trade. Through the lowering or elimination of existing customs duties and other barriers to trade, the WTO works continuously towards a more open global trading system.

The establishment of the WTO has led to a considerable expansion of international cooperation in the area of trade policy. It also covers the areas of services (GATS), investment (TRIMs) and intellectual property (TRIPS) as well as, in a plurilateral framework, government procurement (GPA), information technology (ITA) and civil aviation. Key pillars of the operative business are the on-going negotiations in the framework of the Doha Round launched in 2001, monitoring of the WTO’s agreements, and the review of national trade policies of member governments as well as accession negotiations (the current WTO membership stands at 164). The dispute settlement mechanism of the WTO provides member states with an effective instrument for the prevention of trade conflicts.

Luftaufnahme des Centre William Rappard, Hauptsitz der World Trade Organization in Genf
Luftaufnahme des Centre William Rappard, Hauptsitz der World Trade Organization in Genf© picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb

The WTO Unit at the German Permanent Representation in Geneva defends Germany’s interests in the organization. This includes regular reports on meetings of the various WTO bodies and intense coordination with European Union partner countries, but also the maintaining of close ties with the WTO Secretariat, the delegations of other WTO member states and with professional associations in the field of trade policy. Finally, the WTO Unit stays in close contact with representatives of civil society and with specialists on trade policy, for instance from the German national or regional or the EU parliaments or in academia.

At government level the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is the lead actor for Germany’s positioning on trade policy issues, in coordination with other Federal Ministries concerned such as the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. At EU level, policies are coordinated in the weekly meetings of the Trade Policy Committee in Brussels. The WTO Unit attends follow-up coordination and information meetings relating to specific committee events or topical issues in Geneva. In the WTO, the Delegation of the European Commission to the WTO acts on behalf of the twenty-eight member states of the EU.

In day-to-day business formal procedures are accompanied by numerous practices of an informal nature. A specific position has to garner strong support from within the EU before the Commission and member states can endeavor to push it through in the WTO. On important topics the EU delegations hold an extensive exchange of views in the margins and outside of formal meetings. With decisions within the WTO typically being taken by consensus among all 164 member governments, it is equally important to muster support beyond the EU in good time.

UNCTAD is a permanent body of the UN General Assembly, dealing with trade and sustainable development issues as well as taking particular account of the concerns of developing countries. Established in 1964, it currently consists of 194 states, with offices in New York and Addis Ababa. Since 2013, Dr. Mukhisa Kituy has been Secretary General (Kenya).

UNCTAD’s work is based on its priorities consensus building and policy dialogue among industrialized and developing countries, economic policy research and analytical work as well as technical assistance to support developing countries with a focus on current issues related to globalization, the integration of developing countries into the international trading system and the promotion of investment.


As an UN forum for economic consensus building, UNCTAD is accepted by the developing countries as a fair transformer of “western” economic and development policy positions. This is exemplified by its work in developing countries without developed research and analytical capacities, for which it has important information and advisory functions (including debt management, trade agreements and national legislation). Germany is represented in numerous UNCTAD Committees by experts and is actively involved in several projects directly through financial support or technical Expertise.

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