World Trade Organization (WTO)
The World Trade Organization (WTO) was established on 1 January 1995, as a result of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations concluded in 1994. The predecessor of the WTO is the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
The WTO is the only international body dealing with the rules of trade among states and separate customs territories. The WTO agreements provide the legal ground-rules for international commerce, binding governments to conduct their trade and trade policies according to the principles and rules. Although negotiated and signed by governments, the goal is to help producers and providers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.
The WTO's main objective is to help trade flow smoothly, freely, fairly and predictably. To this end, the WTO:
- removes trade barriers and eliminates discriminatory treatment in international trade through successive multilateral trade negotiations
- provides a fair, predictable and open rules-based trading system through overseeing the implementation of multilateral trade rules and enforcing legally binding obligations
- provides a mechanism for settling trade disputes
- integrates developing and least developed economies into the world trading system
The WTO currently has 164 members, accounting for over 95% of world trade.
Overview on Doha Development Agenda (DDA)
The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO. It brings together all members of the WTO and makes decisions on all matters under the multilateral trade agreements. At the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC4) held in Doha, Qatar in November 2001, ministers agreed to launch a new Round of multilateral trade negotiations on the basis of a broad and balanced work programme set out in the Doha Ministerial Declaration. It includes negotiations in the areas of agricultural products, services, market access for non-agricultural products, certain environment-related issues, and negotiations which aimed at clarifying and improving existing WTO rules. It also includes future work on e-commerce, trade facilitation, transparency in government procurement, trade and competition policy, trade and investment, as well as improvements and clarification of the Dispute Settlement Understanding. This new Round of negotiations is generally referred as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA).
The Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC6) held in December 2005 in Hong Kong set a launching pad for the negotiations of the DDA to intensify and move forward. After MC6, negotiations continued but the progress in the trade talk, with a short suspension in 2006, remained slow as the different positions of major players persisted.
At the Eighth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC8) held in December 2011, WTO Members decided to seek to reach agreements on areas where negotiations had been more advanced, ahead of full conclusion of the DDA negotiations, notwithstanding the fact that there is an original understanding among WTO Members that all the agreements reached under various components of the DDA after conclusion of the negotiations should be approved by the WTO as a single undertaking.
WTO Members concluded a multilateral trade package, the Bali Package, at the Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC9) held in Bali, Indonesia in December 2013. The Bali Package comprises a new Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TFA) and 9 decisions on agriculture and development issues. The TFA is the first multilateral trade agreement concluded by the WTO since its establishment in 1995.
Hong Kong, China's Participation in the WTO
Hong Kong became a separate contracting party to the GATT in 1986, and is a founding member of its successor, the WTO.
Hong Kong is a member of the WTO in its own right. After the return of Hong Kong to the Mainland of China, the HKSAR continues to participate in the WTO as a full and separate member, using the name "Hong Kong, China". The Mainland of China became a member of the WTO on 11 December 2001. Hong Kong, China continues to participate in the WTO as a separate customs territory which enjoys a high degree of autonomy in the conduct of its external commercial relations.
As a small and externally oriented economy, a strong and credible multilateral trading system is of great importance to Hong Kong. Hong Kong, China takes its rights and obligations in the WTO seriously and has all along been participating actively and constructively in the WTO. In addition to the hosting of the MC6 in December 2005, representatives from Hong Kong, China have taken up appointments as chairman or vice chairman of bodies under the WTO:
- Former Assistant Representative of the Hong Kong SAR to the WTO, Ms. Carol Tsang, was the Chairman of the Committee on Import Licensing in 2019/20.
- Former Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr. Edward Yau, was one of the three Vice Chairs of the Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference in 2017.
- Former Permanent Representative of the Hong Kong SAR to the WTO, Ms. Irene Young, served as a member of the Management Board of the Advisory Centre on WTO Law. Ms. Young was the Chairman of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights in 2017/18, the Trade Policy Review Body in 2016/17 and the Committee on Trade and Environment in 2015/16.
- Former Assistant Representative, Ms. Joanna Cheung, was the Chairman of the Committee on Customs Valuation in 2014/15.
- Former Permanent Representative, Mr. Michael Stone, was the Chairman of the Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration in 2013/14.
- Former Deputy Representative, Mr. Sam Hui, was the Chairman of the Committee on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures in 2012/13.
- Former Permanent Representative, Mr. Martin Glass, was the Chairman of the Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance in 2008/09, 2009/10 and 2011/12. Mr. Glass was the Chairman of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights in 2010/11.
- Former Permanent Representative, Mr. Tony Miller, was the Chairman of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights in 2004/05 and the Chairman of the Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation in 2006/07.
- Former Permanent Representative, Mr. Joshua Law, was the Chairman of the Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration in 2003/04. Former Deputy Representative, Mr. Ivan Lee, was the Chairman of the Committee on Customs Valuation in 2003/04.
- Former Permanent Representative, Mr. Stuart Harbinson, was the Chairman of the WTO General Council, the highest decision-making body of the WTO after the Ministerial Conference in 2001/02.
Hong Kong, China is a free and open economy which sets good examples to other WTO members in the implementation of various WTO obligations. As soon as the WTO was established, Hong Kong, China implemented its Uruguay Round tariff commitments fully. We have implemented many of our Uruguay Round commitments well ahead of the agreed timetable. We are also the first WTO Member to join the TFA on 8 December 2014.
Comments and suggestions on Hong Kong's participation in WTO are welcome, and they can be sent to Trade and Industry Department via firstname.lastname@example.org.