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The World Trade Organization – the forum for the building tension between international trade and human rights law – is an international economic organization that was established after 11 years of intensive negotiations. These negotiations are known as the Uruguay Round. One hundred and twenty states formally signed an agreement to establish the WTO in Marrakesh, Morroco on 15 April 1994. This foundation agreement is called the Marrakesh Agreement. By 1 January 1995 a sufficient number of states had ratified the Marrakesh Agreement, paving the way for the WTO to become a reality on this date.

Prior to the formal establishment of the WTO, international trade rules and dispute resolution processes evolved under another international agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which dated back to 1948. However, there was no institutional structure to oversee the development of trade rules, and the WTO is intended to fill this gap. The WTO complements the other major international economic organizations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). BOTHAll three organizations affect prospects for progreAssive realization of the right to education The WTO continues the trade liberalization project commenced in 1948 under the original GATT – only trade in services has now been added to the liberalization agenda.

Membership

As of 9 March 2003, there are 145 members of the WTO, with 31 additional countries having observer status. Many of these observer states are in the process of applying for membership, including Russia. Membership in the WTO is reserved for states and state-like entities. Although most WTO members are sovereign states, there are important exceptions, including the European Union, Hong Kong, and Taiwan (See the membership list on the WTO website: http://www.wto.org/.).

The three "pillar" trade agreements

In addition to establishing a formal institution, the Marrakesh Agreement includes three "pillar" agreements regulating international trade:

  1. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (GATT 1994).The GATT 1994 is an updated version of the original GATT, revised and refined before its incorporation into the WTO framework. The GATT 1994 regulates trade in goods, and is complemented by a host of smaller agreements that also apply to trade in goods. GATT 1994 reflects many of the developments that occurred under the original GATT since 1947. Therefore, it is the most developed of the three "pillar" agreements.
  2. The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) GATS is a new international trade agreement, setting out the rules for trade in services, including for the education sector. It is the relevant WTO agreement here. The purpose of GATS is to facilitate increased trade liberalization across many services sectors. The WTO negotiations under GATS pose significant danger for the campaign to realize universal education for all.
  3. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) TRIPs sets out the rules for the protection of intellectual property rights that affect international trade in good and services. WTO negotiations under TRIPS have had a high profile over the last couple of years, as developing countries have attempted to negotiate trade rules that would permit them to source life-saving medicines, including for the HIV/AIDS pandemic, at affordable prices. So far, it appears that the United States is refusing to relax the rules under TRIPs to allow this.