The organisation, whose headquarters are located in Geneva, was founded in 1995 as the result of seven years of negotiations within the so-called Uruguay Round. During these negotiations, the WTO was created as the institutional framework for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which has existed since 1948. Additional agreements on further aspects of trade have been integrated into the WTO.
As an institution, the WTO provides a platform for member countries to discuss their trade issues and to find joint rules. The WTO thus pursues three main goals:
- Creation and maintenance of a system of rules for international trade to improve transparency and predictability
- Reducing barriers to trade
- Founding of a forum to settle trade disputes
WTO members meet in several different committees and working groups that deal with individual topics of the WTO trade rules. The Committee on Agriculture deals with agriculture topics. Some agriculture-related aspects, such as geographical indications, plant and animal health measures or import licenses, are also dealt with in other committees.
The WTO is particularly important for Switzerland: as a small country, Switzerland has a strong interest in a well-functioning multilateral organisation where every country's vote has equal weight and value, thus creating dependable regulations upon which everyone can rely. In the WTO's multilateral trading system, such negotiated rules of the game carry more weight than pure market power.