The WTO was created in 1995 and has 134 member countries. The forerunner to the WTO was the less powerful GATT (The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). Although, the stated goals of the WTO are to promote global trade and raise living standards, activists say that the WTO , like its lesser cousin NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) has instead emerged as a powerful force for rolling back hard-won rights.
How does the WTO work? Trade dispute panels of the WTO have the right to review and penalize any act of member countries that compromises WTO rules. When a country loses a dispute, it must EITHER change its domestic law -- or pay penalties to keep its law in place. WTO dispute panels consist of three trade lawyers selected by the disputing countries. Only national governments can make submissions or provide testimony to WTO proceedings. Citizens’ organizations and state and local governments are prohibited from participating. Proceedings are secret. Rulings can be appealed, but only on narrow matters of trade law. In the past, WTO panels have ruled against:
Activists say that the WTO has also exerted a powerful "chilling effect" on environmental progress. For example:
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