World Statis...OrganizersWorld Trade Organization (WTO)

World Trade Organization (WTO)


The World Trade Organization (WTO) deals with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated by its members. These documents provide the legal ground rules for international commerce. They are essentially contracts, binding governments to keep their trade policies within agreed limits. Although negotiated and signed by governments, the goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business, while allowing governments to meet social and environmental objectives.

These agreements are renegotiated from time to time and new agreements can be added to the package. Many are now being negotiated under the Doha Development Agenda, launched by WTO trade ministers in Doha, Qatar, in 2001. WTO agreements contain special provision for developing countries, including longer time periods to implement agreements and commitments, measures to increase their trading opportunities, and support to help them build their trade capacity, to handle disputes and to implement technical standards. The WTO’s procedure for resolving trade quarrels is vital for enforcing the rules and therefore for ensuring that trade flows smoothly. Countries bring disputes to the WTO if they think their rights under the agreements are being infringed. Judgements by specially appointed independent experts are based on interpretations of the agreements and individual countries’ commitments.

The WTO Statistics Group supports WTO Members and the Secretariat with quantitative information in relation to economic and trade policy issues. The group is the principal supplier of WTO trade statistics and information on tariffs.

Its statistical activities include:

  • providing WTO Members, the Secretariat and external users with quantitative information and technical expert advice in relation to economic and trade policy issues;
  • providing support to member states for compiling and analysing their tariff schedules required for multilateral negotiations;
  • strengthens cooperation between other international organizations to ensure adherence to international standards in reporting and compilation of international trade data;
  • disseminating to analysts and the general public a large array of trade and tariff data through its web-based portal.

Message of Mr. Pascal Lamy, WTO Director-General, to World Statistics Day:

"What cannot be properly measured cannot be properly managed" – this aphorism is particularly true for trade negotiations where, at the end of the day, everything boils down to numbers. Statistics do not only help in defining policies, they also shape our way of understanding the world. Having the right numbers on tariffs or trade in merchandise and services is important for setting the regulation of international trade on the right footing.

However, the increasing complexity of today's global economy has blurred many conceptual boundaries. Today, most products are "made in the world" and have many "countries of origin". The traditional trade statistics based on customs data may not always provide the relevant picture needed for factual decision-making.

Similarly, the main barriers to international trade are not so much customs tariffs, which have declined significantly in most countries, but the transaction costs which deteriorate the competitiveness of many countries, and the non-tariff measures which limit access to markets.

The information related to these measures is still very limited, and lacks international comparability. Statistics – and especially international statistics – should therefore keep adapting to the changing world. What is required for measuring international trade and devising trade facilitation programmes in the XXI century demand encompassing previously separate fields of statistics. Only then can policy makers come up with a full picture of the economic and social gains of trade – identifying where domestic value added is created and by whom. We will then have the relevant information to place the public debate in the appropriate context.

Contact details:

Statistics Group
Economic Research and Statistics Division (ERSD)
World Trade Organization
154, rue de Lausanne
CH-1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland
Phone: +4122 7395111
Fax: +4122 7395763

For data inquiries:
Trade flows:
Statistics Portal:
Where to find statistics: