By: Astha Raghav. 

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is a legal agreement between many countries, whose overall purpose was to promote international trade by reducing or eliminating trade barriers such as tariffs or quotas. According to its preamble, its purpose was the "substantial reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers and the elimination of preferences, on a reciprocal and mutually advantageous basis."

The GATT was first discussed during the United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment and was the outcome of the failure of negotiating governments to create the International Trade Organization (ITO). It was signed by 23 nations in Geneva on October 30th, 1947, and was applied on a provisional basis January 1st, 1948.It remained in effect until January 1st, 1995, when the World Trade Organization (WTO) was established after agreement by 123 nations in Marrakesh on April 15th, 1994, as part of the Uruguay Round Agreements. The WTO is the successor to the GATT, and the original GATT text (GATT 1947) is still in effect under the WTO framework, subject to the modifications of GATT 1994.Nations that were not party in 1995 to the GATT need to meet the minimum conditions spelled out in specific documents before they can accede; in September 2019, the list contained 36 nations.

The GATT, and its successor the WTO, have succeeded in reducing tariffs. The average tariff levels for the major GATT participants were about 22% in 1947, but were 5% after the Uruguay Round in 1999. Experts attribute part of these tariff changes to GATT and the WTO.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is a multi-national trade treaty. It has been updated in a series of global trade negotiations consisting of nine rounds between 1947 and 1995. Its role in international trade was largely succeeded in 1995 by the World Trade Organization.

The GATT was first conceived in the aftermath of the Allied victory in the Second World War at the 1947 United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment (UNCTE), at which the International Trade Organization (ITO) was one of the ideas proposed. It was hoped that the ITO would be run alongside the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). More than 50 nations negotiated ITO and organizing its founding charter, but after the withdrawal of the United States these negotiations collapsed.

Preparatory sessions were held simultaneously at the UNCTE regarding the GATT. After several of these sessions, 23 nations signed the GATT on 30 October 1947 in Geneva, Switzerland. It came into force on 1 January 1948.

The second round took place in 1949 in Annecy, France. 13 countries took part in the round. The main focus of the talks was more tariff reductions, around 5,000 in total.

The third round occurred in Torquay, England in 1951. Thirty-eight countries took part in the round. 8,700 tariff concessions were made totaling the remaining amount of tariffs to ¾ of the tariffs which were in effect in 1948. The contemporaneous rejection by the U.S. of the Havana Charter signified the establishment of the GATT as a governing world body.

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