Since the end of the Second World War, seven rounds of multilateral trade negotiations have been launched and successfully completed, under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The eighth, known as the Uruguay Round, was formally begun in September 1986, shaped by the objectives set forth in the January 1986 Punta del Este Ministerial Declaration.
The broad goal of all the rounds has been the same—to promote growth and development through the removal of trade distortions, and the development of a more open, predictable, and durable multilateral trading system—although the focus of the negotiations has sometimes differed. The first six rounds concentrated almost exclusively on reducing tariffs, while the Tokyo Round (1973-79) moved on to tackle nontariff barriers, and the Uruguay Round embraces new areas such as services, intellectual property rights, and trade-related investment. The breadth of this latest round, originally scheduled to be concluded at a ministerial meeting in Brussels in December 1990, required important political breakthroughs to resolve obvious difficulties, a task that could not be completed in the time available. As a result, talks were suspended in Brussels; however, a basis for their resumption was found in early 1991, reviving hopes that before too long, a successful conclusion would be forthcoming.
Given the importance of the trade talks for countries all over the world, Finance & Development decided to take a look at why the Round ran into so many seemingly intractable problems and what the shape of a final agreement might be.
Promoting international trade is one of the founding purposes of both the IMF and the World Bank. Indeed, as IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus told the December 1990 ministerial meeting in Brussels when he urged participants to summon up the political will to quickly bring the talks to a successful conclusion: “Your success will be an antidote to the poison of protectionist pressure, that otherwise would contribute to a longer and deeper slowdown and possibly a serious deflationary spiral in economic activity in the industrial countries. The stakes are no less high for the developing countries and for the economies in transition.”
Multilateral trade negotiations
Geneva negotiations. 1947
Annecy negotiations, 1949
Torquay negotiations, 1950–51
Geneva negotiations, 1955–56
Geneva negotiations (“Dillon Round”), 1959–62
Geneva negotiations (“Kennedy Round”), 1963–67
Geneva negotiations (“Tokyo Round”);1973–79
Geneva negotiations (“Uruguay Round”), 1986–