The Multilateral Trading System celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 1998. The achievements of the system are well worth celebrating. Since the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade began operating from Geneva in 1948, world merchandise trade has increased 16 fold and is forecasted to increase 22-fold by 1998. World trade now grows roughly three times faster than merchandise output. Global exports of goods and services are currently worth more than $6 trillion.

  Once a system involving 23 countries primarily concerned with cutting tariffs, the multilateral trading system now encompasses 128 member nations dealing with virtually all manner of global commerce, including trade in services, textiles, agriculture and the international rule for the protection of patents, trademarks and copyrights.

  This advance ranks among the great international economic achievements of the post-world war era. The anniversary offers an opportunity both to look back on the achievements of GATT and the World Trade Organization, and to look ahead and examine ways in which the organization can adapt to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

  What follows is a brief history of the highlights of GATT/WTO.


1947  The birth of GATT. On 30 October 1947, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was signed by 23 nations 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 23 founding contracting parties were members of the Preparatory Committee established by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1946 to draft the charter of the International Trade Organization (ITO). The ITO 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 - later the World Bank).

  In parallel with this task, the Committee members decided to negotiate tariff concessions among themselves. From April to October 1947, the participants completed some 123 negotiations and established 20 schedules containing the tariff reductions and bindings which became an integral part of GATT. These schedules resulting from the first Round covered some 45,000 tariff concessions and about $10 billion in trade.

  GATT was conceived as an interim measure that put into effect the commercial-policy provisions of the ITO. In November, 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 world trade.

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 Session of the Contracting Parties was held from February to March 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. The Contracting Parties held their second session in Geneva from August to September.

1949  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 countries.

1950  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.

1956  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.

1958  The Haberler Report. GATT published Trends in International Trade in October. Known as the "Haberler Report" in honour of Professor Gottfried Haberler, the chairman of the panel of eminent economists, it provided initial guidelines for the work of GATT. The Contracting Parties at their 13th Sessions, attended by Ministers, subsequently established three committees in GATT: Committee I to convene a further tariff negotiating conference; Committee II to review the agricultural policies of member governments and Committee III to tackle the problems facing developing countries in their trade. The establishment of the European Economic Community during the previous year also demanded large-scale tariff negotiations under Article XXIV:6 of the General Agreement.

1960  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.

1961  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.

1964  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 Anti-Dumping.

1965  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 and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

1973  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.

1974  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 seeks 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. MFA members account for most of the world exports of textiles and clothing which in 1986 amounted to US$128 billion.

1982  Ministerial Meeting. Meeting for the first time in nearly ten years, the GATT Ministers in November at Geneva reaffirmed the validity of GATT rules for the conduct of international trade and committed themselves to combating protectionist pressures. They also established a wide-ranging work programme for the GATT which was to lay down the groundwork for a new Round.

1986  The Uruguay Round. GATT Trade Ministers meeting at Punta del Este, Uruguay, launched the eighth Round of trade negotiations on 20 September. The Punta del Este Declaration, while representing a single political undertaking, was divided into two sections. The first covered negotiations on trade in goods and the second initiated negotiations on trade in services. In the area of trade in goods, the Ministers committed themselves to a "standstill" on new trade measures inconsistent with their GATT obligations and to a "rollback" programme aimed at phasing out existing inconsistent measures. Envisaged to last four years, negotiations started in early February 1987 in the following areas: tariffs, non-tariff measures, tropical products, natural resource-based products, textiles and clothing, agriculture, subsidies, safeguards, trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights including trade in counterfeit goods, and trade-related investment measures. The work of other groups included a review of GATT articles, the GATT dispute-settlement procedure, the Tokyo Round agreements, as well as the functioning of the GATT system as a whole.

1993  15 December, Successful Conclusion of the Uruguay Round.

1994  15 April, Signing of the Uruguay Round Agreements in Marrakesh.

  "GATT 1994" is the updated version of GATT 1947 and takes into account the substantive changes negotiated in the Uruguay Round. GATT 1994 is an integral part of the World Trade Organization established on 1 January 1995. It was agreed that there be a one-year transition period during which certain GATT 1947 bodies and commitments would co-exist with those of the World Trade Organization.

  Establishment of a Preparatory Committee for the WTO, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Peter Sutherland, with the overall responsibility for preparing the groundwork for a smooth transition from GATT to the WTO.

  In the "Headquarters Agreement", Members decide to locate the WTO in Geneva.

1995  1st January, establishment of the World Trade Organization.

  March, Mr. Renato Ruggiero is appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

  November, establishment of the Appellate Body which hears appeals and reviews decisions of WTO dispute panel cases.

1996  1 January 1996 - Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) enters into force for developed countries

  May, Basic Telecommunications negotiations are suspended until 1997 in spite of substantial offers. Governments participating agree to preserve the offer and to re-examine them during a 30-day period beginning 15 January 1997.

  The WTO Preshipment Inspection Body becomes operational. The WTO mechanism for settling disputes between exporters and preshipment inspection companies - the Independent Entity (IE) - becomes operational. The IE is constituted jointly by the WTO, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Federation of Inspection Agencies (IFIA), and is administered by the WTO.

1996  July, negotiations on Maritime Transport Services are suspended until 2000. 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.

  Financial Services accord. A substantial consensus is reached on a financial services agreement. Of some 76 WTO Members with commitments in the financial services sector, around 30 offered improvements in the negotiations which led up to this agreement. An important missing partner to this deal is the United States.

  In effect the agreement means that the best offers, with the exception of that of the United States, will be implemented for an initial period up to November 1, 1997. At that point, Members will again have an opportunity (during the following 60 days) to modify or improve their offers on financial services schedules and to take MFN exemptions in the sector.

  9-13 December, First World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference to be held in Singapore.