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WTO NEWS: 1997 PRESS RELEASES

PRESS/81
27 October 1997

Fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the general agreement on tariffs and trade

Today, 30 October 1997, marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Below is a short statement from Renato Ruggiero, Director-General, World Trade Organization, regarding this anniversary:


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"Today marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the multilateral trading system. The creation of this system surely ranks among the greatest economic achievements of the post-war era. For the first time, the principle of non-discrimination in trade relations was applied on a multilateral basis. Through this principle the same rights of market access were extended to all 23 of the original signing nations, developed and developing alike. Today, the World Trade Organization, the offspring of the GATT, has 132 members, all of which have adopted the principle of non-discrimination. It is difficult to overstate the contribution of this basic principle to growth and development on a world scale and to the establishment of closer relations among nations.

"On 20 May 1998, we will hold a high profile celebration to mark the occasion of these 50 years and highlight for the citizens of the world, the contribution this system has made to global peace and prosperity."

Note to Editors:

Attached is a brief fact-sheet on the birth of the GATT.

The birth of GATT

1947    The birth of GATT. On 30 October 1947, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was signed by 23 nations - twelve developed and eleven developing economies - at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The Agreement contained tariff concessions agreed to during the first multilateral trade negotiations and a set of rules designed to prevent these concessions from being frustrated by restrictive trade measures.

The genesis of GATT. In 1946, the newly-created Economic and Social Council of the United     Nations called a conference to consider the creation of the International Trade Organization (ITO)     which was envisaged as the final leg of a triad of post-War economic agencies (the other two were     the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development -    later the World Bank). A preparatory committee was established to draft the ITO charter.

During 1946-1947, the committee worked on the draft charter. However, independent of this official     task under the UN mandate, the committee members conducted tariff-cutting negotiations among themselves in advance of the ITO. These negotiations resulted in about 45,000 tariff concessions     affecting some US$ 10 billion of world trade.

The committee members also agreed to protect the value of the tariff concessions by early acceptance     of some of the trade rules of the draft ITO charter. Thus, tariff concessions and trade rules together became known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which was signed on 30     October 1947 by 23 countries.

1948    Entry into force. On 1 January 1948, GATT entered into force. The 23 founding members were: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Ceylon, Chile, China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, India, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Southern Rhodesia, Syria, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States.

The first real business of the GATT was conducted by the First Session of Contracting Parties     which began on 28 February 1948 and ended on 20 March 1948 in Havana, Cuba. The secretariat     of the Interim Commission for the ITO, which served as the ad hoc secretariat of GATT, moved from Lake Placid, New York, to Geneva in 1948.