The ACWL was established in 2001 pursuant to the Agreement Establishing the ACWL as an organisation independent of the WTO. The ACWL's mission is to provide developing countries and LDCs with the legal capacity necessary to enable them to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the WTO.
A key benefit of WTO membership is that a WTO Member can trade with others in a secure and predictable rules-based multilateral trading system. In participating in the negotiation and formulation of those rules, and in bringing its own laws into conformity with them, each WTO Member contributes to that security and predictability. Another key benefit is that a WTO Member can enforce its rights through binding adjudication under the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (DSU).
A WTO Member can seize these opportunities only if it understands its rights and obligations as a WTO Member and if it understands how the WTO conducts negotiations, takes decisions and settles disputes. For countries with inadequate human and financial resources, that knowledge is difficult to acquire. WTO law consists of a complex web of over 20 agreements, which – together with the attached Member-specific schedules of concessions and commitments – cover more than 20,000 pages. WTO law also includes the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of 1947 (GATT), all the decisions adopted by the contracting parties to the GATT and the jurisprudence of the adjudicative bodies of the GATT and the WTO, contained in over 300 reports. To take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the WTO, therefore, a country must make a significant investment in knowledge.
The ACWL was established to help developing and LDCs overcome the constraints they experience in acquiring this knowledge. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has said that "by ensuring that the legal benefits of the WTO are shared among all Members, the ACWL contributes to the effectiveness of the WTO legal system, in particular its dispute settlement procedures, and to the realisation of the WTO's development objectives".