GATT: Where Are the Trumpets?

By Bosworth, Barry P.; Collins, Susan M. | Brookings Review, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

GATT: Where Are the Trumpets?


Bosworth, Barry P., Collins, Susan M., Brookings Review


The recently completed Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is a landmark achievement that deserves far more general recognition and discussion than it has received. Unlike the seven earlier GATT agreements, which focused rather narrowly on liberalizing trade in goods, this one looks ahead to the increasingly complex international economic relations of the 21st century.

The first six GATT negotiating sessions significantly reduced world tariffs--from an average of 40 percent among industrial countries in 1948 to an average of just 6.4 percent today. The seventh session, the Tokyo Round (1973-79), began to expand the agenda, addressing some concerns about proliferating quantitative restrictions, such as trade quotas, and other nontariff barriers. The Uruguay Round has moved further down this road, for example finally reaching agreement to phase out the Multi-Fibre Agreement that restricts trade in apparel.

Some observers are disappointed with the Uruguay Round because it achieved less traditional trade liberalization than they had hoped. For instance, negotiators were unable to make much headway in reducing trade barriers in agriculture, agreeing instead on new rules and means of measuring protection that may lead to more liberalization in the future. Still, estimates are that trade liberalization engineered in the Uruguay Round may eventually raise world income by roughly 1 percent of GNP from improved allocation of resources--with perhaps an additional 1 percent increase from increased investment and other "dynamic" gains. Critics have characterized these benefits as small, but it is hard to think of other actions by governments with equivalent returns.

As international economic relations grow more complex, it is no longer enough for GATT to focus only on liberalizing trade in goods. Services, for example, now account for a fifth of global trade, and this share is growing. Further, expanding international linkages make it harder to separate at-the-border trade barriers from the behind-the-border regulations and practices that countries can use to discriminate against foreign goods. Thus, harmonious cross-national economic relations will require a structure capable of reconciling disputes arising from a broad range of cross-national differences.

Although GATT's founders never envisaged it in such an over-arching role, negotiators in the Uruguay Round made a serious attempt to enable the GATT to address a much broader agenda. Notably, they negotiated new agreements to cover trade in some service sectors and to discipline the use of intellectual property--both areas of particular interest to the United States because they are so closely related to its areas of comparative advantage. …

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