Trade Envoys Mark Demise of GATT
Dec. 12, 1995
GENEVA (AP) _ GATT is dead. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade _ which shaped the world trading system and smashed trade barriers _ was finally laid to rest Tuesday.
In its place is the World Trade Organization, a more powerful body which will enforce the trade liberalizing deals worked out by GATT and clamp down on trade cheats.
``This is not the end of GATT: It is the birth of its child,'' declared Renato Ruggiero, who has worn two hats as head of the WTO and GATT.
Although the WTO came to life last Jan. 1, GATT and its trade rules were left intact for 12 months to smooth the transition.
That accomplished, trade envoys attended their final GATT session. There was little pomp or ceremony _ but a lot of reminiscence and gratitude.
``It is definitely an historic moment,'' said Booth Gardner, U.S. trade envoy to GATT and the WTO.
After the devastation wrought by World War II and the protectionism of the Great Depression, GATT was set up in 1947 as a temporary forum to cut barriers to trade and reduce import duties.
Between 1950 and 1970, world merchandise exports grew by an average of 7 percent a year, boosting global prosperity.
``The GATT was a milestone in the evolution towards a new world trading system,'' said Mounir Zahran, chairman of the GATT Contracting Parties, the name given to GATT members.
GATT sponsored eight rounds of trade talks. The most ambitious was the Uruguay Round, which introduced freer trade rules for new areas like services and traditionally protected sectors like agriculture and textiles.
The Uruguay Round was signed in Morocco last year, four years overdue because of disagreements between the United States and Europe. It led to the creation of the WTO.
The repeated delays earned GATT the nickname ``General Agreement to Talk and Talk.''
The main problem with GATT was that it didn't have teeth, says Gardner. ``It took a lot of will power from everyone to keep it going.''
Bill Craft, director of multilateral trade affairs at the U.S. State Department, said the low turnout at GATT's final session was a positive sign.
``It shows the strength of the new World Trade Organization that GATT is being allowed to slip quietly into the water like this,'' said Craft.