The WTO maintains regular dialogue with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on various issues related to international trade. The aim is to enhance cooperation and increase NGOs' awareness of WTO activities and the role of the rules-based multilateral trading system.
At the creation of the WTO in 1995, WTO members established a legal basis for consultation and cooperation with NGOs (Article V.2 of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization).
In July 1996, the General Council clarified the mandate (WT/L/162), which acts as the basis for WTO-NGO relations today.
Members recognized “the role NGOs can play to increase the awareness of the public in respect of WTO activities” and agreed “to improve transparency and develop communication with NGOs” by giving the WTO Secretariat the authority to establish direct contacts with NGOs. They identified a number of communication channels, including the organization of a symposium (now known as the Public Forum) and briefings. The WTO's Information and External Relations Division has a team dedicated to working with NGOs.
How can NGOs keep up to date about WTO issues?
The WTO website
The WTO website contains information about the latest WTO activities, such as trade negotiations, the implementation of WTO agreements, new WTO publications, the latest trade statistics as well as dedicated pages for NGOs, parliamentarians, businesses etc.
Registering for WTO news alerts or RSS news feeds
Registering for WTO news alerts or the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) news feeds enables you to receive WTO news directly to your device. It helps keep you informed about specific areas of interest to you by receiving the latest related WTO news without having to visit the WTO website.
Click here to register for our news alerts.
See more about how to start using the RSS news feeds.
Following WTO on social media
The WTO is active in a range of social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter. This allows you to follow and comment on our news, videos, and photos.
Geneva NGO briefings
The WTO gives informal briefings after major meetings at its headquarters. These briefings may be attended by registered NGOs based in Geneva and its surrounding region.
How can NGOs attend WTO events?
As a general rule, NGOs should register for public events beforehand. However, local NGOs can also request a WTO-NGO badge which is valid for one year. This gives access to the WTO building and facilitates participation in events that are public or dedicated to NGOs, such as WTO Secretariat briefings. Authorization is not automatic and each application is considered on an individual basis. Events/briefings open to NGOs will be announced in the “Meetings” calendar on this page.
As of January 2020, 46 local NGOs representatives are registered to the WTO.
Attending ministerial conferences
NGOs can be accredited to take part in ministerial conferences, the highest decision-making body of the WTO which meets every two years. During a Ministerial Conference, NGOs receive regular briefings from the WTO External Relations team on the progress of discussions between WTO members.
Attending dispute settlement proceedings
NGOs can attend the public hearings of some dispute settlement proceedings. As and when such hearings are public, information will be provided in the Events calendar.
How can NGOs contribute to the WTO debate?
Participation in the Public Forum
The Public Forum is the WTO’s largest annual outreach event. It provides a platform for public debate across a wide range of WTO issues and trade topics. The Forum is also an opportunity for the WTO to listen and exchange views with NGOs.
More than 9,000 representatives of NGOs, academia, business, media, government, parliamentarians and intergovernmental organizations have participated in the Public Forum since it was first launched in 2001 (until 2005 it was known as the Public Symposium). The Forum gives participants the opportunity not only to take part in discussions, but also to organize their own sessions. Previous Public Fora have focused on various trade issues, ranging from the future of trade to harnessing globalization.
Submitting position papers
Position papers are written statements asserting the position of an NGO on a particular WTO topic. Position papers must be related to the activities of the WTO and are circulated to all WTO members. They can be submitted at any time, including at ministerial conferences.
The latest position papers are available here.