In the WTO governments have to inform the WTO and fellow-members of specific measures, policies or laws through regular “notifications”; and the WTO conducts regular reviews of individual countries’ trade policies – the “Trade Policy Reviews”. These reviews are part of the Uruguay Round agreement. The first reviews took place in 1995, their scope extends from trade in goods to trade in services and intellectual property.
The reviews focus on members’ own trade policies and practices but they also take into account the countries’ wider economic and development needs, their policies and objectives and the external economic environment that they face. These “peer reviews” by other WTO members encourage governments to follow more closely the WTO rules and disciplines and to fulfil their commitments. In practice the reviews have two broad results; they enable outsiders to understand a country’s policies and circumstances, and they provide feedback to the reviewed country on its performance in the system.
Over a period of time all WTO members are to come under scrutiny. The frequency of the reviews depends on the country’s size of trade:
The four biggest traders – the European Union, United States, Japan and China – are examined approximately once every two years.
The next 16 countries (in terms of their share of world trade) are reviewed every four years.
The remaining countries are reviewed every six years, with the possibility of a longer interim period for the least-developed countries.
For each review, two documents are prepared: a policy statement by the government under review, and a detailed report written independently by the WTO secretariat. These two reports, together with the proceedings of the Trade Policy Review Body’s meetings are published shortly afterwards.