The three WTOs

Business Line, December 07, 2006

By Pradeep S Mehta

People familiar with a system use abbreviations generously, assuming that everyone knows what is being spoken about. And it is efficiency which guides using abbreviations or acronyms whenever communicating.

Often, media too write in acronyms of well-known organisations such as UN. The Time magazine realised that at least five per cent of its readers may not be familiar with the term UN. Thus, its style manual asks all writers to use the full term once in the beginning, United Nations, so that readers are aware of what UN means. The multilateral trade body the World Trade Organisation is most often described by the media as just WTO. But, then, there are three WTOs, and that can cause hilarious confusions.

When the World Trade Organisation was established in 1995, the name encountered allegations of copyright violation. Ironic and amusing, as after all the WTO includes a stringent agreement on intellectual property rights, and to be sued in a Spanish court for such a violation, and just on launch too.

Why a court in Spain? Because there already existed a WTO in Madrid — the World Tourism Organisation. Finally, an informal compromise was arrived at that the trade-related WTO would henceforth be called WTO-OMC, rather than just WTO. OMC standing for the Organisation Mondiale du Commerce, the French name of WTO. The third official language being Spanish, fortunately the abbreviation is still OMC (Organizacion del Commercio). So while the English media uses just WTO to define the trade body, the French and Spanish media call it the OMC.

As I write this piece, the trade-related WTO is in a sort of limbo with no progress on the Doha Round. But we now learn that another WTO — the World Toilet Organisation has been existing in Singapore for quite some time. This organisation has a mandate to work on preventing and treating diseases arising from unclean toilets. To add to the global sanitary agenda, another toilet group, the World Toilet Association (WTA), has been promoted in Korea to focus on promoting clean public use of toilets.

Will one WTO flush into another is the million dollar question?

The author is Secretary General, CUTS International, a leading research, advocacy and networking group and can be reached at

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