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World Trade Organization


MILLAR KREKLEWETZ LLP is a boutique Canadian law firm with lawyers who have significant expertise in matters involving the World Trade Organization and the trade agreements that it administers.

The following is a short introduction to the World Trade Organization.

World Trade Organization

Canada is a member of the World Trade Organization (the WTO), which was established in 1994 under the World Trade Organization Agreement. The World Trade Organization Agreement also continued the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (the GATT), which was originally signed in 1947.


The WTO is the primary institution of the world multilateral trading system. The WTO is responsible for the administration of the GATT and other trade agreements above (i.e., GATT, GATS, TRIPs, and TRIMs, below), ongoing trade negotiations, dispute settlement, and enforcement. Currently, approximately 150 countries are members of the WTO.


The GATT is at the heart of the world multilateral trading system. As its name implies, the GATT is aimed principally reducing tariffs and other barriers to trade (e.g., quotas) between GATT members, and the elimination of discriminatory treatment in international commerce. These objectives of the GATT influence domestic law, discussed below.

The focus of GATT is trade in goods; trade in services, intellectual property, and investment are covered under separate agreements (GATS, TRIPs, and TRIMs, respectively) which are also administered by the WTO.

Basic GATT Obligations

As a member country, Canada has bound itself to conduct its international trade according to the rules of the GATT. Canada, like other member countries, has the following basic obligations:

  • Tariff levels commitment to apply GATT-negotiated tariff levels (and associated rules for valuation and origin).
  • Most Favoured Nation (MFN) principle commitment to not discriminate in the treatment of like goods imported from different trading partners (subject to exception for free trade areas, such as NAFTA);
  • National Treatment commitment to not discriminate between like goods of domestic and foreign origins;
  • Subsidies and Countervailing Duties
  • Dumping and Anti-Dumping Duties

These obligations are reflected in Canadian domestic customs laws. For more information on the influence of Canadas GATT obligations on domestic customs and trade law, please return to our Practice Area Index and select General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs).

Dispute Settlement

Finally, the WTO sets out an extensive system for trade dispute settlement. The nature of dispute settlement under the WTO concerns challenges by one state of another states fulfillment of its GATT obligations. These are state-to-state disputes, and as such, there is no formal mechanism through which private enterprises can challenge the activities of a country in which they operate.

In contrast, the North American Free Trade Agreement (the NAFTA) and bilateral investment treaties provide an avenue for private enterprises to challenge governmental actions that threaten their investments. For more information on investor disputes, please return to our Practice Area Index and select NAFTA Chapter 11 Disputes and NAFTA Investor Disputes.

Millar Kreklewetz LLP is well-placed to provide both guidance and counsel on WTO/GATT Canadian customs and trade law matters, and persons wishing to understand how these laws affect their business are encouraged to contact us for more infomation on the issues inherent in their files.

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