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GATT Trade Negotiations Coming to a Crunch

Article excerpt

WHEN the victorious Allied nations set up the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 1944 to oversee the postwar economic order, they also planned to create an International Trade Organization with far-reaching powers to regulate international commerce, investment, and commodities.

That plan, killed when the United States Congress refused to join, may now be revived. Canada is proposing a World Trade Organization (WTO) - basically a strengthened General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the organization set up in 1948 to lay down limited rules of international trade.

"It would be much more significant now," notes David Woods, head of information at the Geneva-based GATT. Today the average industrial democracy exports 22 percent of its national output. Even the US, the largest economy in the world, exports goods worth about 7 percent of its gross national product. World merchandise trade last year exceeded $3 trillion for the first time. International trade was far less important in the early postwar years.

Any institutional change hangs on the success of the current round of GATT negotiations aimed at reducing the barriers to world commerce. Indeed, some officials at GATT headquarters in Geneva are concerned that proposals for a new WTO not distract from this "Uruguay Round" of talks.

"We will not have reason for a world trade organization if we do not achieve success eight months from now in Brussels," John Crosbie, Canada's international trade minister, said last month.

The Uruguay Round, which was initiated at a meeting in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in September 1986, is scheduled to conclude in December with a meeting of ministers in Brussels.

If the round succeeds, the ministers may turn to building up GATT to manage whatever new jobs are given it - such as managing trade in services, establishing rules for international investment, and looking after exchanges of intellectual property such as patents and copyrights. …