GATT Explained: Key Facts and Insights

Rate this post

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is a cornerstone in the history of international trade, shaping the economic landscape since its inception in 1947. Established to reduce tariffs and other trade barriers, GATT played a pivotal role in promoting global economic cooperation and growth.

Although it was succeeded by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, the principles and framework of GATT continue to influence modern trade practices. In this article, we delve into the key facts and insights about GATT, exploring its history, core principles, and lasting impact on international trade.

GATT Explained

GATT Full Form

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), signed in 1947 by 23 countries, is a crucial international treaty. Its primary goal was to minimize barriers to global trade by eliminating or reducing quotas, tariffs, and subsidies. Here are the key points:

Background and Purpose

  • GATT emerged after World War II to boost economic recovery. It aimed to make international trade easier by addressing undesirable trade practices from the prewar era.
  • Over the years, GATT underwent refinements and expansions.
✅ Read Also: Regional Rural Banks in India: History, List, Function, and Key Points

Transition to the WTO

  • In 1995, GATT evolved into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which absorbed GATT’s principles and provisions.
  • By then, 125 nations were signatories to GATT agreements, covering approximately 90% of global trade.

How GATT Worked

  • GATT focused on reducing quantitative trade barriers (such as quotas) and tariff rates.
  • The most-favored-nation principle ensured equal treatment for all signatory members.
  • Once a tariff cut was negotiated with some trading partners, it automatically applied to all GATT signatories.

Current Status

  • The Goods Council, part of the WTO, now oversees GATT-related matters.
  • Ambassador Clare Kelly of New Zealand chairs the Goods Council, which has 10 committees addressing various trade aspects.

In summary, GATT played a pivotal role in shaping global trade, and its legacy lives on through the WTO.

GATT Full Form
Full FormGeneral Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
Signed30 October 1947
LocationGeneva, Switzerland
TypeMultilateral treaty

Understanding the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), established in 1947, was a pivotal multilateral international treaty aimed at promoting and regulating global trade. Let’s delve into its key aspects:

Background and Purpose

  • GATT emerged post-World War II to facilitate economic recovery and foster international cooperation.
  • Its mission: reduce trade barriers—such as tariffs—and enhance economic ties among member nations.

Tariff Reduction and Trade Barriers

  • GATT focused on lowering tariffs (import taxes) and other obstacles hindering cross-border trade.
  • Member countries engaged in negotiation rounds to progressively reduce tariffs on various goods.

Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) Principle

  • MFN ensured equal treatment for all GATT members. If a country granted favorable trade terms to one partner, it extended those terms to all others.
  • Non-discrimination was the cornerstone, promoting fair trade practices.

National Treatment

  • Imported goods received equal treatment as domestically produced ones within a member country’s market.
  • Discrimination against imports was discouraged.

Trade Dispute Resolution

  • GATT provided mechanisms for resolving trade disputes. If a member believed another violated GATT rules, it could seek resolution through the dispute settlement process.

Trade Rounds and the Uruguay Round

  • GATT operated through negotiation cycles known as “trade rounds.”
  • The Uruguay Round (1986–1994) was pivotal, leading to the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.

In summary, GATT laid the groundwork for global trade cooperation, and its legacy continues through the WTO.

✅ Read Also:  Indian Currency Notes and Coins: Symbol, New Currency, Press & Mints

The Genesis of GATT: A Framework for Global Trade

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) emerged from the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference (commonly known as the Bretton Woods Conference) held in July 1944 in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA. Here’s what you need to know:

Post-WWII Economic Order

  • The conference aimed to establish a framework for the international economic order after World War II.
  • Amid global reconstruction efforts, the need for cooperative trade policies became evident.

Harry Dexter White’s Proposal

  • American economist Harry Dexter White proposed the concept of GATT.
  • White was part of the U.S. delegation led by renowned economist John Maynard Keynes and himself.
  • Their vision: Create an international organization to address trade barriers and prevent protectionism and trade wars.

GATT’s Birth

  • In 1947, representatives from 23 countries signed the GATT agreement in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • GATT’s foundational principles aimed to reduce trade barriers, promote economic cooperation, and prevent a repeat of the Great Depression’s pitfalls.

Legacy and Multilateral Trading System

  • GATT laid the groundwork for the multilateral trading system.
  • Its legacy lives on through the World Trade Organization (WTO), which absorbed and expanded upon GATT’s principles.

In summary, GATT was a pivotal step toward fostering international trade cooperation and economic stability.

✅ Read Also: Budget 2024: What is the Union Budget? How is it prepared? Know everything, from Significance to objectives

The Evolution of GATT and Its Member Countries

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) emerged from post-World War II efforts to promote international trade by reducing barriers. Here’s a concise overview:

Origins and Establishment

  • In 1947, representatives from 23 nations signed the GATT in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • The primary goal was to substantially reduce tariffs and other trade barriers on a reciprocal basis.
  • GATT came into provisional effect on January 1, 1948.

Membership Growth

  • Over time, more countries joined GATT, expanding its reach.
  • By 1995, when GATT transitioned into the World Trade Organization (WTO), there were 128 member countries.
  • Notably, the WTO continues to operate under the framework of GATT 1994, with modifications.

Original GATT Members

The initial 23 contracting parties included:

  1. Australia
  2. Belgium
  3. Brazil
  4. Burma (now Myanmar)
  5. Canada
  6. Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
  7. Chile
  8. China (the Republic of China, which was a signatory; after 1949, this referred to Taiwan)
  9. Cuba
  10. Czechoslovakia (which later split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia)
  11. France
  12. India
  13. Lebanon
  14. Luxembourg
  15. Netherlands
  16. New Zealand
  17. Norway
  18. Pakistan
  19. Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
  20. Syria
  21. South Africa
  22. United Kingdom
  23. United States

These countries were instrumental in laying the groundwork for modern international trade rules and the formation of the WTO.

Post-GATT Era

  • The WTO now comprises 164 member countries, including Liberia and Afghanistan (as of 2018).
  • Some original GATT members, such as Syria, Lebanon, and the SFR Yugoslavia, did not rejoin.

In summary, GATT played a pivotal role in shaping global trade, and its legacy lives on through the WTO.

Functions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) played a pivotal role in shaping international trade and fostering economic cooperation among its member nations. Let’s explore its key functions:

Tariff Reduction

GATT aimed to reduce tariffs on goods and services exchanged between member countries. By lowering import taxes, GATT facilitated cost-effective trade, stimulating economic growth.

Non-Discrimination (Most-Favored-Nation Treatment)

GATT introduced the principle of “Most-Favored-Nation” (MFN) treatment. This meant that any advantage or privilege granted by one member to another had to be extended to all members. This fairness principle discouraged discriminatory trade practices.

National Treatment

GATT emphasized that imported products should receive equal treatment as domestic goods within a member country’s market. This prevented discrimination against foreign products.

Trade Rounds and Negotiations

Through multiple trade rounds, GATT members negotiated tariff reductions, trade rules, and agreements for specific industries. These negotiations fostered cooperation and addressed trade-related issues.

Trade Dispute Settlement

GATT provided a mechanism for resolving trade disputes. If a member believed another was violating GATT rules, they could seek resolution through the dispute settlement process.

Trade Rules and Principles

GATT established a framework of rules governing international trade. These covered areas like subsidies, anti-dumping measures, and safeguards, ensuring fair and predictable trade relations.

Economic Development

By facilitating international trade, GATT contributed to global economic development. It enabled countries to access markets and resources, fueling their growth.

Stabilizing the Global Economy

GATT’s efforts to reduce protectionist measures helped prevent a recurrence of the Great Depression’s economic turmoil in the 1930s.

Negotiation Platform

GATT provided a forum for member countries to diplomatically address economic concerns and interests through negotiations.

Transition to the World Trade Organization (WTO)

The Uruguay Round culminated in the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. The WTO expanded trade negotiations to include services, intellectual property, and modern trade issues.

Why was GATT replaced by the World Trade Organization (WTO)?

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) played a crucial role in shaping international trade, but as the global economy evolved, so did the need for a more comprehensive framework. Here’s why GATT gave way to the World Trade Organization (WTO):

Expanded Scope

  • GATT’s Limitations: GATT primarily focused on goods, leaving out critical areas like services, intellectual property, and investment. As trade complexities grew, the WTO emerged to address these broader aspects.
  • WTO’s Solution: The WTO’s mandate extended beyond goods, covering services, patents, trademarks, and more. It became a one-stop platform for all trade-related matters.


  • Fragmented Agreements: GATT’s multiple negotiation rounds resulted in fragmented agreements. The Uruguay Round (1994) aimed to modernize GATT.
  • Comprehensive Agreements: The WTO’s agreements encompassed goods, services, and intellectual property. It provided a cohesive framework for the modern trading landscape.

Dispute Settlement Mechanism

  • GATT’s Shortcomings: GATT’s dispute resolution lacked teeth. The WTO introduced a robust mechanism with binding decisions.
  • WTO’s Strength: The WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body ensures prompt resolution of trade disputes, enhancing enforcement.

Institutional Structure

  • GATT’s Informality: GATT operated informally. The WTO, a permanent institution, formalized its structure.
  • WTO’s Secretariat: The WTO’s Secretariat facilitates decision-making and coordination.

Consolidation of Agreements

  • GATT’s Complexity: GATT’s agreements were scattered. The WTO streamlined them.
  • Unified Platform: The WTO managed agreements coherently, simplifying trade rules.

Trade Policy Review Mechanism

  • Transparency Boost: The WTO introduced regular policy reviews. Member countries report on their trade practices, promoting transparency.

Economic and Political Changes

  • New Realities: Post-Cold War, globalization reshaped economies. The WTO adapted to these shifts.
  • Responsive Framework: The WTO became a dynamic platform for evolving trade challenges.

Permanent Commitment

  • WTO’s Significance: Transitioning to the WTO signaled a lasting commitment. Member countries recognized the vital role of international trade in a rapidly changing world.

Benefits of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) played a pivotal role in shaping global commerce, fostering cooperation among member nations. Let’s explore the key benefits it offered:

Trade Expansion

GATT’s mission was to reduce tariffs and dismantle trade barriers. By doing so, it facilitated the seamless flow of goods and services across borders, leading to increased trade volumes and economic prosperity.

Economic Growth

Lowering trade barriers through GATT had a ripple effect on economic growth. It promoted efficient resource allocation, encouraged specialization, and fueled healthy competition among countries.

Consumer Benefits

Reduced tariffs translated to lower prices for imported goods. Consumers enjoyed a broader range of products at competitive rates, enhancing their purchasing power.

Business Opportunities

GATT opened doors for businesses by granting access to larger markets. Export opportunities multiplied, allowing businesses to expand and diversify their customer base.

Protection against Protectionism

GATT acted as a shield against protectionist policies—such as high tariffs and trade restrictions—that could trigger trade wars and economic downturns. Lessons from the Great Depression underscored the importance of avoiding such pitfalls.

Stable International Relations

By providing a framework for negotiations and dispute resolution, GATT fostered stable and cooperative international relations. Mutual understanding prevailed, reducing the likelihood of trade-related conflicts.


GATT’s established rules and principles gave member countries confidence when engaging in trade. Predictability encouraged long-term investments and reliable trade relationships.

Least-Developed Countries (LDCs)

GATT recognized the plight of LDCs. It allowed them to impose lower tariffs and enjoy trade preferences, stimulating their economic growth and integration into the global market.

Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) Treatment

The MFN principle ensured equitable treatment. No country would face discrimination, promoting fair trade relations and preventing bias.

Trade Rounds

GATT’s negotiation rounds, exemplified by the Uruguay Round, provided collaborative platforms. Countries addressed trade-related issues collectively, shaping global trade rules.

Preventing Beggar-Thy-Neighbor Policies

GATT discouraged harmful policies that could harm trading partners. Cooperation prevailed over self-interest, fostering a healthier trade environment.

Global Stability

GATT’s efforts contributed to global economic stability. By preventing escalating trade conflicts, it safeguarded the interconnected world economy.

Limitations of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) indeed had both advantages and limitations. Some of the key limitations of GATT include:

Limited Coverage

  • GATT’s primary focus on goods excluded critical areas like services, intellectual property, and investment. The evolving global economy demanded a broader scope.

Enforcement Challenges

  • GATT lacked robust enforcement mechanisms. Non-compliance by member countries led to disputes and hindered effective implementation.

Selective Implementation

  • Negotiated exceptions sometimes resulted in unequal treatment. This compromised the principle of non-discrimination.

Inequitable Impact

  • GATT’s benefits weren’t evenly distributed. Less-developed nations struggled to fully leverage opportunities.

Dispute Settlement Delays

  • Slow dispute resolution, lacking binding enforcement, left some conflicts unresolved.

Preference Erosion

  • Preferences granted could divert trade patterns, disadvantaging other partners.

Non-Tariff Barriers

  • GATT focused on tariffs but overlooked non-tariff barriers (quotas, standards), affecting trade.

Political Pressures

  • Political considerations influenced negotiations, sometimes compromising economic efficiency.

Limited Participation

  • Not all nations benefited; some remained outside GATT’s provisions.

Lack of Updating

  • Created in 1947, GATT struggled to adapt to changing global dynamics.

Rounds of Negotiations

  • Lengthy negotiation rounds delayed addressing emerging trade issues.

Sustainability Challenges

  • GATT prioritized economic aspects, neglecting environmental and sustainability concerns.

Conferences organized by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a predecessor to the World Trade Organization (WTO), played a crucial role in shaping global trade relations. Throughout its existence, GATT convened multiple negotiation rounds, often referred to as trade rounds or conferences.

These gatherings aimed to facilitate agreements on various trade-related matters among member countries. Notable conferences held by GATT include the Kennedy Round, Tokyo Round, and Uruguay Round. By skillfully navigating these negotiations, GATT fostered international cooperation and paved the way for fairer trade practices worldwide. Some of the significant conferences organized by GATT include:

Geneva Conference (1947): The Geneva Conference in 1947 was the inaugural GATT conference held in Geneva, Switzerland. During this conference, representatives from 23 contracting parties negotiated the initial agreement, which laid the foundation for GATT’s mission to reduce trade barriers and promote international cooperation.

Annecy Conference (1949): The Annecy Conference in 1949, held in Annecy, France, aimed to build upon the progress made during the first GATT conference. It focused on further tariff reductions and trade liberalization among member countries.

Torquay Conference (1950-1951): The Torquay Conference, held between 1950 and 1951, was part of the GATT negotiation rounds. Its primary objective was to further reduce trade barriers. As a result, substantial tariff reductions were achieved across various product categories. Notably, this round played a crucial role in stimulating global trade after the disruptions caused by World War II.

Geneva II Conference (1956): The Geneva II Conference in 1956 aimed to address remaining trade barriers and expand the provisions of GATT to more countries, including newly independent nations.

Dillon Round (1960-1961): The Dillon Round, conducted between 1960 and 1961, aimed to further liberalize trade. However, progress was constrained by political tensions during the Cold War. The negotiations primarily centered on reducing tariffs for manufactured goods.

Kennedy Round (1964-1967): The Kennedy Round, named after U.S. President John F. Kennedy, took place between 1964 and 1967. Its goal was to tackle both tariff and non-tariff barriers. The negotiations resulted in significant tariff reductions and addressed critical issues such as anti-dumping measures and subsidies.

Tokyo Round (1973-1979): The Tokyo Round, held between 1973 and 1979, focused on addressing non-tariff barriers. These barriers included technical obstacles to trade and subsidies. Additionally, the round aimed to actively involve developing countries in the negotiations.

Uruguay Round (1986-1994): The Uruguay Round, spanning from 1986 to 1994, stands out as one of the pivotal GATT conferences. Its culmination led to the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. During this extensive round of negotiations, a diverse array of topics was addressed, including services, intellectual property, agriculture, textiles, and other critical trade-related matters.

Is GATT still in Effect?

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is no longer active as a standalone international agreement. GATT functioned from its inception in 1947 until it was replaced by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.

The GATT framework was integrated into the WTO, which was created to offer a more comprehensive and updated approach to managing international trade. The agreements and principles from GATT were incorporated into the WTO’s structure, allowing the WTO to continue GATT’s mission of promoting open and fair global trade.

Although GATT is no longer operational, its legacy endures through the WTO, which builds upon GATT’s foundation and extends its principles to encompass a broader spectrum of modern international trade. The WTO addresses not only trade in goods but also services, intellectual property, dispute resolution, and other pertinent aspects of global trade.

FAQs about GATT

Q1. GATT was established in 1947 under which leadership?

GATT was established in 1947 under the leadership of the United States and other Allied nations that participated in the post-World War II negotiations.

Q2. When was GATT first established?

GATT was first established on October 30, 1947.

Q3. What is the GATT today?

Today, GATT’s principles and framework have been integrated into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which was established in 1995 to provide a more comprehensive and modern approach to regulating international trade.

Q4. Who proposed the GATT?

The GATT was proposed by several Allied nations during the post-World War II negotiations, primarily led by the United States.

Q5. When was GATT 1947 signed?

GATT 1947 was signed on October 30, 1947.

Q6. What is the old name of WTO?

The old name of the WTO is not applicable since the WTO was established as a new organization in 1995, replacing the GATT framework. However, GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) is often considered its predecessor.

Q7. Who is the first female director of WTO?

The first female director of the WTO is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who took office on March 1, 2021.

Q8. Who became the 164th member of WTO?

Afghanistan became the 164th member of the WTO on July 29, 2016.

Source: WTO

Related Posts:

Share This:

As a professional blogger and passionate educator, I am driven by a deep-seated desire to share knowledge and empower others. With years of experience in the field, I am committed to providing valuable insights and guidance to aspiring learners. My passion lies in helping individuals discover their potential and achieve their goals. I am also a firm believer in the power of motivation and strive to inspire others to pursue their dreams with unwavering determination.

Leave a Comment

Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.

Powered By
100% Free SEO Tools - Tool Kits PRO