The Uruguay Round
It took seven and a half years, almost twice the original schedule. By the end, 125
countries were taking part. It covered almost all trade, from toothbrushes to pleasure
boats, from banking to telecommunications, from the genes of wild rice to AIDS treatments.
It was quite simply the largest trade negotiation ever, and most probably the largest
negotiation of any kind in history.
At times it seemed doomed to fail. But in the end, the Uruguay Round brought about the
biggest reform of the world's trading system since GATT was created at the end of the
Second World War. And yet, despite its troubled progress, the Uruguay Round did see some
early results. Within only two years, participants had agreed on a package of cuts in
import duties on tropical products - which are mainly exported by developing countries.
They had also revised the rules for settling disputes, with some measures implemented on
the spot. And they called for regular reports on GATT members' trade policies, a move
considered important for making trade regimes transparent around the world.
A round to end all rounds?
The seeds of the Uruguay Round were sown in November 1982 at a ministerial meeting of
GATT members in Geneva. Although the ministers intended to launch a major new negotiation,
the conference stalled on the issue of agriculture and was widely regarded as a failure.
In fact, the work programme that the ministers agreed formed the basis for what was to
become the Uruguay Round negotiating agenda.
The 15 original Uruguay Round subjects
Natural resource products
Textiles and clothing
Tokyo Round codes
The GATT system
Nevertheless, it took four more years of exploring, clarifying issues and painstaking
consensus-building, before ministers agreed to launch the new round. They did so in
September 1986, in Punta del Este, Uruguay. They eventually accepted a negotiating agenda
which covered virtually every outstanding trade policy issue. The talks were going to
extend the trading system into several new areas, notably trade in services and
intellectual property, and to reform trade in the sensitive sectors of agriculture and
textiles. All the original GATT articles were up for review. It was the biggest
negotiating mandate on trade ever agreed, and the ministers gave themselves four years to
Two years later, in December 1988, ministers met again in Montreal, Canada for what was
supposed to be an assessment of progress at the round's half-way point. The purpose was to
clarify the agenda for the remaining two years, but the talks ended in a deadlock that was
not resolved until officials met more quietly in Geneva the following April.
Despite the difficulty, during the Montreal meeting, ministers did agree a package of
early results. These included some concessions on market access for tropical products -
aimed at assisting developing countries - as well as a streamlined dispute settlement
system, and the Trade Policy Review Mechanism which provided for the first comprehensive,
systematic and regular reviews of national trade policies and practices of GATT members.
The round was supposed to end when ministers met once more in Brussels, in December 1990.
But they disagreed on how to reform agricultural trade and decided to extend the talks.
The Uruguay Round entered its bleakest period.
||Punta del Este:
||ministerial mid-term review
||mid-term review completed
||"closing" ministerial meeting ends in deadlock
||first draft of Final Act completed
||US and EC achieve "Blair House" breakthrough on agriculture
||Quad achieve market access breakthrough at G7 summit
||most negotiations end (some market access talks remain)
||WTO created, agreements take effect
Despite the poor political outlook, a considerable amount of technical work continued,
leading to the first draft of a final legal agreement. This draft "Final Act"
was compiled by the then GATT director general, Mr Arthur Dunkel, who chaired the
negotiations at officials' level. It was put on the table in Geneva in December 1991. The
text fulfilled every part of the Punta del Este mandate, with one exception - it did not
contain the participating countries' lists of commitments for cutting import duties and
opening their services markets. The draft became the basis for the final agreement.
For the following two years, the negotiations lurched between impending failure, to
predictions of imminent success. Several deadlines came and went. New points of major
conflict emerged to join agriculture: services, market access, anti-dumping rules, and the
proposed creation of a new institution. Differences between the United States and European
Communities (EU) became central to hopes for a final, successful conclusion.
In November 1992, the US and EU settled most of their differences on agriculture in a
deal known informally as the "Blair House accord". By July 1993 the
"Quad" (US, EU, Japan and Canada) announced significant progress in negotiations
on tariffs and related subjects ("market access"). It took until 15 December
1993 for every issue to be finally resolved and for negotiations on market access for
goods and services to be concluded (although some final touches were completed in talks on
market access a few weeks later). On 15 April 1994, the deal was signed by ministers from
most of the 125 participating governments at a meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco.
The delay had some merits. It allowed some negotiations to progress further than would
have been possible in 1990: for example some aspects of services and intellectual
property, and the creation of the WTO itself. But the task had been immense, and
negotiation-fatigue was felt in trade bureaucracies around the world. The difficulty of
reaching agreement on a complete package containing almost the entire range of current
trade issues led some to conclude that a negotiation on this scale would never again be
possible. Yet, the Uruguay Round agreements contain timetables for new negotiations on a
number of topics. And by 1996, some countries were openly calling for a new round early in
the next century. The response was mixed; but the Marrakesh agreement does already include
commitments to reopen negotiations on a range of subjects at the turn of the century.
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