The United States, the European Union, and the "Globalization" of World Trade: Allies or Adversaries?

By Thomas C. Fischer | Go to book overview

Chapter 14
Metamorphosing the GATT: The World Trade Organization (WTO)

Prior to World War II, international trade was conducted primarily through trading blocs--among countries with similar economic systems and complementary needs. There was no true "global" trade. In their zeal to compete, these blocs eventually became military blocs, and World War II began. 1 After the war, international trade continued to be compartmentalized. There was no central authority and no agreed-upon or enforceable rules. The Bretton Woods/GATT conference was supposed to provide such a mechanism-- the International Trade Organization (ITO). But the U.S. Congress opposed the ITO, because it didn't want America's trade practices policed by others. The U.S. wanted to do the policing and so the ITO never was created. In its place was the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as the GATT. But the GATT had no enforcement power and was never meant to be as far-reaching as it became by the end of the Uruguay Round ( 1993).

The trading rules of the GATT are negotiated in sessions called rounds. The first GATT round was concluded in 1947, involved 23 nations and covered about one-half of world trade in goods. The next round, in 1949, involved only thirteen nations. From then until 1964, there were periodic renegotiations of the GATT, involving anywhere from 26 to 38 nations. The latest GATT round (the Uruguay Round), the eighth overall, was concluded on December 15, 1993, and signed into force in March 1994. It involved 117 nations and took seven years to complete ( 1986-1993). Moreover, it did not address just tariff barriers (as past GATT agreements had) but added trade in services, intellectual property, textiles and agriculture.

The number of nations involved in this international agreement is surprising enough, but the amount of trade regulated by the GATT is truly

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