The Multilateral Trading System:

50 years of achievement

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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.

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