Implementation of the WTO Agreements: Framework and Reform

Zhang, Xin | January 1, 2003

The term ‘implementation’ has two meanings in the WTO context. The general meaning refers to all the modalities, mechanisms, and instruments that assist in the application of the WTO Agreements. A more recent meaning, highlighted by the Doha Development Agenda, addresses the ‘implementation-related issues and concerns’ such as those “raised by many developing-country Members regarding the implementation of some WTO Agreements and Decisions, including the difficulties and resource constraints that have been encountered in the implementation of obligations in various areas.” In this regard, the WTO implementation issue refers to the abilities of developing-country Members to implement the existing WTO Agreements and to benefit more from the multilateral trading system, and how the WTO and other Members can help them promote such abilities. The implementation of the WTO Agreements can be analyzed as one umbrella topic. Generally, there are two targets of implementing a multilateral treaty. The first target is to ensure that all Members have the capacity to enjoy the treaty rights or benefits and abide by the treaty obligations (for example, with an effective and honest bureaucracy, economic resources, institutional structures, technical expertise and public support). The second target is to ensure that all Members act in compliance with the treaty and refrain from breaching, by the means of surveillance, supervision or sanction. The first target (the capacity) is always a condition of the second (the compliance). When the Members have no capacity to implement the negotiated WTO obligations, the treaty is noncompliant with the WTO Agreements. In addition to the implementing capacity, other parallel factors such as the intention, the political context and the economic situation of one Member will effectively determine the outcome of implementation and play a more important role in this process. From this perspective, the significance of the Doha Development Agenda is to specify the meaning of ‘implementation’ to cover the mechanism of capacity building as one pre-condition of the final success of implementation. The WTO undertakes the capacity building of developing-country Members (especially the Least-Developed Countries, or “LDCs”) by delivering technical assistance from both the WTO and other Members.