In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley (2013)

Christian Barry
Australian National University
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a multilateral trade organization that, at least partially, governs trade relations between its member states. The WTO (2011a) proclaims that its “overriding objective is to help trade flow smoothly, freely, fairly and predictably.” The WTO is a “treaty-based” organization – it has been constituted through an agreed, legally binding treaty made up of more than 30 articles, along with additional commitments by some members in specific areas. At present, 153 states are members of the WTO, which collectively make up over 97 percent of all trade worldwide (WTO 2011b). Together, the WTO treaty specifies the rights and obligations of its member states. To become a member of the WTO, a state must treat the agreement as a “single undertaking.” Members cannot choose à la carte which agreements – for example, regarding tariffs, or trade in services or intellectual property – they want to accede to and which they do not. Instead, they must take on the obligations of the agreement in toto. The WTO is one of the most consequential governance institutions in the world, a lodestar of political debate about globalization (see globalization), attracting increased interest from moral and political philosophers in recent years (James 2006; Moellendorf 2005; Risse 2007; Brock 2009).
Keywords International Justice  Trade  Ethics and Economics
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