This year is the Golden Jubilee of the multilateral trading system. The creation of
this system surely ranks among the greatest economic achievements of the post-World War II
era. For a war-torn international community, the system gave substance to a shared dream
of a fair and open world trading system. More than that, it has led directly to the
breaking-down of barriers not just between countries but between peoples. At the heart of
the system are its rules-based structure and the principle of non-discrimination.
multilateral trading system continues to grow in scope and credibility. Currently, there
are 132 member governments, with an additional 30 negotiating their terms of membership.
It would be difficult to overstate the contribution the WTO makes to growth and
development on a world scale.
20 May 1998, we will hold a high profile celebration in Geneva to mark the Golden Jubilee
and highlight for the citizens of the world the contribution this system has made to
global peace and prosperity."
Note to Editors:
is a brief chronology of some of the more significant events and achievements in the life
of the multilateral trading system so far.
GATT/WTO chronology Back
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.
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.
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.
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 as an interim
November 1947, delegations from 56 countries met in Havana, Cuba, to consider the
ITO draft as a whole. After long and difficult negotiations, some 53 countries signed the
Final Act authenticating the text of the Havana Charter in March 1948. There was no
commitment, however, from governments to ratification and, in the end, the ITO was
stillborn, leaving GATT as the only international instrument governing the conduct of
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.
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.
Second Round at Annecy. During the second Round of trade negotiations, held from April
to August at Annecy, France, the contracting parties exchanged some 5,000 tariff
concessions. At their third Session, they also dealt with the accession of ten more
Third Round at Torquay. From September 1950 to April 1951, the contracting parties
exchanged some 8,700 tariff concessions in the English town, yielding tariff reductions of
about 25 per cent in relation to the 1948 level. Four more countries acceded to GATT.
During the fifth Session of the Contracting Parties, the United States indicated that the
ITO Charter would not be re-submitted to the US Congress; this, in effect, meant that ITO
would not come into operation.
Fourth Round at Geneva. The fourth Round was completed in May and produced some $2.5
billion worth of tariff reductions. At the beginning of the year, the GATT commercial
policy course for officials of developing countries was inaugurated.
The Dillon Round. The fifth Round opened in September and was divided into two phases:
the first was concerned with negotiations with EEC member states for the creation of a
single schedule of concessions for the Community based on its Common External Tariff; and
the second was a further general round of tariff negotiations. Named in honour of US
Under- Secretary of State Douglas Dillon who proposed the negotiations, the Round was
concluded in July 1962 and resulted in about 4,400 tariff concessions covering $4.9
billion of trade.
The Short-Term Arrangement covering cotton textiles was agreed as an exception to the
GATT rules. The arrangement permitted the negotiation of quota restrictions affecting the
exports of cotton-producing countries. In 1962 the "Short-term" Arrangement
became the "Long-term" Arrangement, lasting until 1974 when the Multifibre
Arrangement entered into force.
The Kennedy Round. Meeting at Ministerial level, a Trade Negotiations Committee
formally opened the Kennedy Round in May. In June 1967, the Round's Final Act was signed
by some 50 participating countries which together accounted for 75 per cent of world
trade. For the first time, negotiations departed from the product-by-product approach used
in the previous Rounds to an across-the-board or linear method of cutting tariffs for
industrial goods. The working hypothesis of a 50 per cent target cut in tariff levels was
achieved in many areas. Concessions covered an estimated total value of trade of about $40
billion. Separate agreements were reached on grains, chemical products and a Code on
A New Chapter. The early 1960s marked the accession to the General Agreement of many
newly-independent developing countries. In February, the Contracting Parties, meeting in a
special session, adopted the text of Part IV on Trade and Development. The additional
chapter to the GATT required developed countries to accord high priority to the reduction
of trade barriers to products of developing countries. A Committee on Trade and
Development was established to oversee the functioning of the new GATT provisions. In the
preceding year, GATT had established the International Trade Centre (ITC) to help
developing countries in trade promotion and identification of potential markets. Since
1968, the ITC has been jointly operated by GATT (later the WTO) and the UN Conference on
Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The Tokyo Round. The seventh Round was launched by Ministers in September at the
Japanese capital. Some 99 countries participated in negotiating a comprehensive body of
agreements covering both tariff and non-tariff matters. At the end of the Round in
November 1979, participants exchanged tariff reductions and bindings which covered more
than $300 billion of trade. As a result of these cuts, the weighted average tariff on
manufactured goods in the world's nine major industrial markets declined from 7.0 to 4.7
per cent. Agreements were reached in the following areas: subsidies and countervailing
measures, technical barriers to trade, import licensing procedures, government
procurement, customs valuation, a revised anti-dumping code, trade in bovine meat, trade
in dairy products and trade in civil aircraft. The first concrete result of the Round was
the reduction of import duties and other trade barriers by industrial countries on
tropical products exported by developing countries.
On 1 January 1974, the Arrangement Regarding International Trade in Textiles, otherwise
known as the Multifibre Arrangement (MFA), entered into force. It superseded the
arrangements that had been governing trade in cotton textiles since 1961. The MFA sought
to promote the expansion and progressive liberalization of trade in textile products while
at the same time avoiding disruptive effects in individual markets and lines of
production. The MFA was extended in 1978, 1982, 1986, 1991 and 1992.
The Uruguay Round. GATT Trade Ministers meeting at Punta del Este, Uruguay, launched
the eighth Round of trade negotiations on 20 September. Envisaged to last four years,
negotiations were held in Geneva, Switzerland, and continued for some seven and a half
years covering the most wide-ranging and ambitious agenda of any Round so far.
Successful Conclusion of the Uruguay Round negotiations on 15 December 1993 in Geneva,
The Final Act of the Uruguay Round signed by Ministers on 15 April 1994 in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Results included average tariff cuts of 40% on industrial products; an average increase in
the percentage of tariff bindings from 21% to 73% (for developing countries), from 78% to
99% (for developed countries), and from 73% to 98% (for transition economies); a
comprehensive programme of agricultural reform, including liberalization commitments on
tariffs, domestic support and export subsidies, and the replacement of all quantitative
restrictions and other non-tariff measures by tariffs; a phase-out of export restrictions
and enhanced market access for textiles and clothing; strengthened agreements on
safeguards, technical barriers, customs valuation, import licensing, state-trading,
subsidies, and anti-dumping and countervailing. The results also produced new agreements
on such areas as trade in services, intellectual property rights, sanitary and
phytosanitary measures, and trade-related investment measures. The Uruguay Round results
also transformed the provisional multilateral trading system which had existed under the
GATT into the permanent World Trade Organization with a significantly strengthened legal
mechanism for resolving trade disputes multilaterally.
Entry into force of the World Trade Organization on 1 January 1995.
31 May 1995, WTO General Council approved the Headquarters Agreement with the Swiss
Confederation, including the decision to locate the WTO in Geneva.
services accord reached on 28 July 1995, with governments agreeing to negotiate
further liberalization at the end of 1997.
Basic telecommunications negotiations are suspended in May 1996 in spite of
substantial offers. Governments participating agreed to preserve the offer and to
re-examine them during a 30-day period beginning 15 January 1997.
Maritime transport services negotiations suspended in July 1996. Members participating
in the negotiations agreed to suspend the negotiations and to resume them, on the basis of
existing or improved offers, at the time of the further round of comprehensive
negotiations on trade in services mandated to begin in the year 2000.
WTO Ministerial Conference held in Singapore, 9-13 December 1996. Among the major
conclusions of the Conference was the establishment of three working groups, respectively,
on trade and investment, trade and competition policy, and transparency in government
procurement, plus a mandate to conduct a study on trade facilitation.
Successful conclusion of negotiations on basic telecommunications services on 15
February 1997. Sixty-nine governments agreed to wide-ranging liberalization measures.
Domestic and international revenue generated in the basic telecommunications sector
roughly amounts to US$600 billion annually. The agreement entered into force on 5 February
On 26 March 1997, forty governments agreed to cut customs duties on information
technology products, beginning on 1 July 1997 and with the aim of eliminating all
duties on these products by 2000. International trade in these products amounts to some
US$600 billion annually.
Successful conclusion of negotiations on financial services on 12 December 1997.
Seventy governments reached a multilateral agreement to open their financial services
sectors, covering more than 95 per cent of trade in banking, insurance, securities and
financial information. The agreement will enter into force on 1 March 1999.