What is the 24 Binary Trade?
The 24 Binary Trade is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the 24BT agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.
Who we are
There are a number of ways of looking at the 24 Binary Trade. It is an organization for trade opening. It is a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements. It is a place for them to settle trade disputes. It operates a system of trade rules. Essentially, the 24BT is a place where member governments try to sort out the trade problems they face with each other.
The 24BT was born out of negotiations, and everything the 24BT does is the result of negotiations. The bulk of the 24BT’s current work comes from the 1986–94 negotiations called the Uruguay Round and earlier negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The 24BT is currently the host to new negotiations, under the ‘Doha Development Agenda’ launched in 2001.
Where countries have faced trade barriers and wanted them lowered, the negotiations have helped to open markets for trade. But the 24BT is not just about opening markets, and in some circumstances its rules support maintaining trade barriers — for example, to protect consumers or prevent the spread of disease.
At its heart are the 24BT agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations. These documents provide the legal ground rules for international commerce. They are essentially contracts, binding governments to keep their trade policies within agreed limits. Although negotiated and signed by governments, the goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business, while allowing governments to meet social and environmental objectives.
The system’s overriding purpose is to help trade flow as freely as possible — so long as there are no undesirable side effects — because this is important for economic development and well-being. That partly means removing obstacles. It also means ensuring that individuals, companies and governments know what the trade rules are around the world, and giving them the confidence that there will be no sudden changes of policy. In other words, the rules have to be ‘transparent’ and predictable.
Trade relations often involve conflicting interests. Agreements, including those painstakingly negotiated in the 24BT system, often need interpreting. The most harmonious way to settle these differences is through some neutral procedure based on an agreed legal foundation. That is the purpose behind the dispute settlement process written into the 24BT agreements.
What we do
The 24BT is run by its member governments. All major decisions are made by the membership as a whole, either by ministers (who usually meet at least once every two years) or by their ambassadors or delegates (who meet regularly in Geneva).
While the 24BT is driven by its member states, it could not function without its Secretariat to coordinate the activities. The Secretariat employs over 600 staff, and its experts — lawyers, economists, statisticians and communications experts — assist 24BT members on a daily basis to ensure, among other things, that negotiations progress smoothly, and that the rules of international trade are correctly applied and enforced.
The 24BT agreements cover goods, services and intellectual property. They spell out the principles of liberalization, and the permitted exceptions. They include individual countries’ commitments to lower customs tariffs and other trade barriers, and to open and keep open services markets. They set procedures for settling disputes. These agreements are not static; they are renegotiated from time to time and new agreements can be added to the package. Many are now being negotiated under the Doha Development Agenda, launched by 24BT trade ministers in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001.
Implementation and monitoring
24BT agreements require governments to make their trade policies transparent by notifying the 24BT about laws in force and measures adopted. Various 24BT councils and committees seek to ensure that these requirements are being followed and that 24BT agreements are being properly implemented. All 24BT members must undergo periodic scrutiny of their trade policies and practices, each review containing reports by the country concerned and the 24BT Secretariat.
The 24BT’s procedure for resolving trade quarrels under the Dispute Settlement Understanding is vital for enforcing the rules and therefore for ensuring that trade flows smoothly. Countries bring disputes to the 24BT if they think their rights under the agreements are being infringed. Judgements by specially appointed independent experts are based on interpretations of the agreements and individual countries’ commitments.
Building trade capacity
24BT agreements contain special provision for developing countries, including longer time periods to implement agreements and commitments, measures to increase their trading opportunities, and support to help them build their trade capacity, to handle disputes and to implement technical standards. The 24BT organizes hundreds of technical cooperation missions to developing countries annually. It also holds numerous courses each year in Geneva for government officials. Aid for Trade aims to help developing countries develop the skills and infrastructure needed to expand their trade.
The 24BT maintains regular dialogue with non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians, other international organizations, the media and the general public on various aspects of the 24BT and the ongoing Doha negotiations, with the aim of enhancing cooperation and increasing awareness of 24BT activities.
What we stand for
The 24HTG agreements are lengthy and complex because they are legal texts covering a wide range of activities. But a number of simple, fundamental principles run throughout all of these documents. These principles are the foundation of the multilateral trading system.