Current members are shown in green, members dually represented by the EU in blue, observers negotiating accession in yellow, and non-members in red. Public domain image by Danlaycock via Wikimedia Commons.
Since its inception in 1995, the WTO has grown from 123 to 164 members. Membership is not limited to sovereign states, but may be extended to any customs territory with full autonomy in the conduct of its external economic relations. Thus Hong Kong, a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a founding member of the WTO, whereas the PRC did not join until 2001. Applicants in the process of negotiating their accession to the WTO are afforded observer status. An up-to-date list of members and observers is posted on the WTO's website.
The process of joining the WTO, also known as accession, is governed by Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement. A working party, comprised of all interested WTO members, scrutinizes each application and negotiates the terms of accession. This is followed by an extended period of bilateral negotiations between the applicant and each member of the working party on tariff levels and market access.
Finally, the WTO’s Ministerial Conference must approve the application and terms of membership. The length of the process varies considerably, depending the applicant’s trade practices and level of development. For more information on the accession process, consult the secondary sources listed to the right.
Consult the Accessions Page on the WTO's website for accession-related news, meeting documents, and more, including:
The protocol of accession is the formal document by which a new member joints the WTO and agrees to be bound by its multilateral agreements. Accompanying each protocol of accession are the goods and services schedules that memorialize the specific commitments on tariffs and market access made by the new member as a condition of joining the WTO.
The WTO’s website provides the following options for accessing protocols of accession, the goods and services schedules that accompany them, and other country-specific accession-related documents:
The Georgetown Law Library has protocols of accession, and the related goods and services schedules, in print for the following jurisdictions:
Founding members of the WTO are shown in dark green. Members that joined the WTO after 1995 are shown in light green. Public domain image by Emilfaro via Wikimedia Commons.