Slide 1

The beginning ...

Church House, London 1946. The inaugural session of the Preparatory Committee charged with creating an International Trade Organization.
 

Slide 2

The Havana conference, Cuba, December 1947

One of the purposes of this UN Conference on Trade and Employment was to set up an International Trade Organization as a third world economic pillar alongside the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The attempt failed, but the negotiated trade rules, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), did take effect from 1 January 1948.

The system that has become known as the multilateral trading system was born. For 47 years, GATT served as an ad hoc international organization, taking up some of the functions originally intended for the ITO.

Here, Eric Wyndham-White, the conference executive secretary (second from right on the rostrum), gives a press conference in Havana's Capitolio on 10 December 1947.

He was to become the first GATT Director-General, a post he held from 1948 to 1968.

On his right is Matthew Gordon, Deputy Director of Public Information. During the conference a simultaneous interpretation system was used. The interpreters' booths can be seen in the background.

Slide 3

Second GATT meeting, 17 August 1948

Second meeting of the 22 contracting parties to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (i.e. GATT members), Geneva, Switzerland.

 
Slide 4

Second round of multilateral trade negotiations
Annecy, France, 1949

The first round, with 23 countries meeting in Geneva in 1947, led to the establishment of GATT itself, as well as some 45,000 reductions in participants’ customs duties. It was held in preparation for the Havana conference.

In this second round, participants agreed to exchange some 5,000 tariff concessions, and 10 more countries signed the General Agreement.
 

Slide 5

Second round of multilateral trade negotiations
Annecy, France, 1949

Annecy is in the French Alps not far from Geneva. Here, French delegate André Philip speaks in the plenary session of the second GATT round.
 

Slide 6

The third round, Torquay, UK, 1950

A year later, the negotiations moved to England. This third round focused again on tariff reductions. The number of participants rose to 38.

Here, the mayor of Torquay welcomes the delegates. On his left is the conference chairman, L Dana Wilgress (Canada); on his right, Harold Wilson, president of the Board of Trade, and future UK prime minister.
 

 
Slide 7

The Dillon Round, Geneva, 1960-61

Move on a decade, skip one round. By the time they reached their fifth tariff negotiation, GATT signatories decided to give the talks a name.

The negotiations launched in Geneva on 1 September 1960 were to become known as the Dillon Round, after C Douglas Dillon, US undersecretary of state under President Eisenhower, and Treasury Secretary under President Kennedy (who took office during the round in January 1961). By then the European Community had been set up and was beginning to match the United States’ economic clout.

This photo shows participants at the inaugural meeting.

(The fourth round had been held in Geneva in 1956.)
 

Slide 8

The Kennedy Round, Geneva, 1964-1967

GATT trade rounds were getting longer and more complicated. In the sixth, the Kennedy Round, participation surged to more than 60 countries - 66 nations attended the opening ceremony, pictured here, on 4 May 1964 in Geneva.

The subjects discussed also expanded, from the traditional tariff cuts to new trade rules, such as those on the use of anti-dumping measures.

The Kennedy Round was named after the US president who had died the previous year. This was partly in his memory and partly because President Kennedy had secured the 1962 US Trade Expansion Act which authorized the US government to negotiate tariff cuts of up to 50%, a key factor allowing the talks to take place.

Slide 9

The Kennedy Round, Geneva, 1964-1967

And as the talks expanded, so did public interest. This press event during the Kennedy Round contrasts with the picture of the Havana conference. But there was one common thread - Eric Wyndham-White, still at the helm, here seen at the far right .
 

 Slide 10

The Tokyo Round, 1973-79

Another decade, and GATT negotiations moved outside Europe for the first time. The seventh round was launched at a ministerial meeting in Tokyo, 12-14 September 1973, seen here.

After the inauguration, the hard bargaining returned to Geneva.

The Tokyo Round took a broader look at the trade rules than its predecessor, the Kennedy Round, with mixed results. Participation swelled again to 102 countries. The tariff negotiations led to further substantial reductions in customs duties. A series of agreements were reached on various non-tariff barriers, but they were only signed by some participants - they became known as the Tokyo Round “codes”.

However, the talks failed to come to grips with fundamental reforms in agricultural trade, and stopped short of providing a new agreement on “safeguards” (emergency import measures). The first steps in that direction were to take place in the next round.
 

Slide 11

The Uruguay Round, 1986-94: the last and biggest GATT round

In 1986, a GATT round was launched in a developing country for the first time. By now developing countries had become the majority in the GATT system, and in this round they were to play an unprecedented active role in the talks, alongside their more powerful fellow-participants.

In September 1986, trade ministers met in the Uruguay resort of Punta del Este (the meeting is pictured here). After a week of tough talking, they agreed to launch new negotiations. As in previous rounds, these took place mainly in Geneva.

The Uruguay Round turned out to be the longest, most complicated, and the last of the GATT rounds. It took seven and a half years to complete, and it led to the most fundamental reform of world trade rules since GATT itself was created in 1948.

 
Slide 12

‘Half-way’ point: the Montreal ministerial

The Uruguay Round was supposed to last four years. Therefore, the ministerial meeting in Montreal two years later, in December 1988, was called the Mid-Term Review (seen here).

The objective was to set the agenda for the remaining two years of the round. Instead, the Montreal meeting ended in a deadlock that was not broken until April the following year.

By the time ministers met again in Brussels in December 1990, the talks were considerably behind schedule. It was clear the round could not end as originally planned at that meeting.
 

Slide 13

Seven years later, the talking ends ... well, most of it

It was not until 15 December 1993 that the negotiations finally came to an end. GATT Director General Peter Sutherland, seen here, brought the gavel down on a deal that would transform world trade.

Some talking did continue, however, in the weeks leading up to the final signing ceremony, including some last-minute bargaining on tariffs
 

Slide 14

The end, and a new beginning
Marrakesh, Morocco, April 1994

The Uruguay Round package was signed in Marrakesh in April 1994, seven and a half years after the round began. This fourth ministerial meeting of the Uruguay Round was held in Marrakesh's Palais des Congrès.

Slide 15

One signature per country covering 23,000 pages

The delay allowed participants to develop a clearer view of how world trade could be reformed. The final package was 23,000 pages long, the bulk being individual countries' commitments to lower trade barriers on an immense range of goods and services. At the signing ceremony, the agreement covered a large table.

The most important result was the creation of the World Trade Organization, almost half a century after the failed attempt to create an International Trade Organization (slide 2). And with the WTO's creation, the multilateral rules were expanded to cover new areas of trade.

GATT had only dealt with trade in goods. It was to be replaced on 1 January 1995 by the the WTO. But the General Agreement continued to exist in revised form alongside new rules for services and intellectual property.

The package was important in one other respect. It avoided a fundamental weakness of the Tokyo Round - all WTO members have signed on to all the WTO's agreements with a single signature, except for two less important "codes" (now known as "plurilateral" agreements).

In the picture Thai Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi signs in the presence of two other Thai ministers, GATT Director-General Peter Sutherland (second from right), and officials.

Slide 16

A royal occasion: the closing ceremony

By the end, the number of participants in the Uruguay Round had reached 123. Almost all were represented in Marrakesh.

Here, King Hassan II, accompanied by the Crown Prince of Morocco, presides over the closing ceremony at his Marrakesh palace after the signing.

Slide 17

Ultimate responsibility: the ministerial conference

The WTO's topmost decision-making body is the ministerial conference. This met for the first time in December 1996 in Singapore, where modern facilities welcomed an ever-expanding membership.

Here, current WTO Director-General Renato Ruggiero is seen addressing the Singapore conference in person from the podium and in video.

In Singapore, ministers examined how the WTO agreements are being put into practice. They also started exploratory work in the WTO on new issues.

Among these are: competition policy, the relationship between trade and investment, and trade "facilitation" - helping trade flow more smoothly by improving information and removing bureaucratic and other obstacles that are not currently handled by the WTO's agreements.

The ministerial conferences are held no more than two years apart. The second meeting is in Geneva in May 1998, when 50 years of the multilateral trade system - the system set up with the creation of GATT - will be celebrated.

Slide 18

New challenges lie ahead

The past has shown how difficult setting the rules for trade has been. It has also shown what can be achieved, and this will be important for the future.

Already, in 1997, three new agreements were reached at the WTO's headquarters in Geneva (pictured here), to liberalize trade in telecommunications services, information technology products, and financial services.

Already on the horizon are new talks in areas such as agriculture and services. Resuming negotiations in these subjects is a commitment in the present WTO agreements.

Who knows, perhaps the turn of the century will bring the first WTO trade round; perhaps in an increasingly complex world, trade negotiations will take a different form. It is already clear that there will be plenty to talk about.

Start slideshow