WTO/GATT Trade Rounds: Past as Prologue

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ABSTRACT

This research examines the processes and outcomes of trade rounds. The examination includes a review of each of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) trade rounds and their periods of activity, objectives, and contributions. Then, the paper examines the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Conferences and reviews their objectives and outcomes. Finally, the paper reviews the status of the WTO's Doha Round and questions whether the GATT experience is prologue to successful WTO trade discussions.

INTRODUCTION

On January 1, 1995, a new multilateral trade organization emerged on the world's stage, the World Trade Organization (WTO). Its prime objective is to strengthen the world trading system and, in this regard, it aspires to be more effective than the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the organization it replaced. As stated succinctly on its website (WTO About, 2003), "the World Trade Organization is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world's trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business."

OBJECTIVE OF THE RESEARCH

At this time now, the WTO is involved in a round of trade discussions. These discussions, formally titled the Doha Development Agenda but known popularly as the Doha Round, initiated in November 2001 at a WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar and hope to conclude by January 2005 (The Economist, 2003a; WTO Doha, 2001; WTO Doha, 2003). The Doha Round opens "against long odds" with support of the United States working with the European Union and other countries (Zoellick, 2002). Prior to Doha, the world trading nations participated in eight rounds of trade talks under the GATT.

The objective of this research is to examine multilateral trade negotiations by reviewing previous GATT trade rounds as a way of underpinning an understanding of the WTO's Doha Round. The examination of GATT includes a review of each GATT round, its period of activity, objectives, and contributions. Then, the paper examines the WTO Ministerial Conferences and reviews their objectives. Finally, a review of the status of the Doha Round and a question of whether the GATT is prologue to the success of present WTO trade discussions.

GATT AND THE WTO

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is an ad hoc, provisional organization created in the late 1940s after the world trading nations failed to implement an International Trade Organization (Cooper, 1994; Kehoe, 1998). The GATT operated from 1947 until the emergence of WTO on January 1, 1995. Upon the creation of the WTO, the GATT no longer exists as an organization, but continues as an agreement updated in the Uruguay Round (discussed below).

GATT organizationally now is an agreement administered by the WTO. It deals primarily with trade in goods. Three other agreements in the WTO, a General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), an Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and an Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) involve respectively services, intellectual property, and investment issues in world trade (Kehoe, 1998; Denis, 2003). In summary, the World Trade Organization administers four agreements--the GATT, the GATS, the TRIPS, and the TRIMs as well as providing a forum for trade negotiations, mediating trade disputes, monitoring national trade policies, providing technical assistance and training for developing countries, and cooperating with other international organizations (Kehoe, 1998; WTO and GATT, 1998; Denis, 2003; WTO About, 2003).

As of April 4, 2003, the World Trade Organization has 146 member countries and 30 observer countries that are required to begin accession negotiations within five years of becoming observers (WTO About, 2003). …