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General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)

The first General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was negotiated in 1947 between 18 countries. A series of ad hoc secret negotiating rounds followed, designed to foster free trade—that is, the removal of trade barriers such as tariffs and export bans—through setting rules for international trade and settling trade disputes. Since 1947 there have been eight rounds of negotiations to update the GATT rules. GATT became ‘both a set of rules and a negotiating forum.’ Proponents argued that if trade was unimpeded by trade barriers and tariffs, global economic growth would be accelerated and each country would prosper as a result.[1]

Industry Sector Advisory Committees (ISACs) were set up in the US in the 1970s to facilitate industry input into trade policy and ‘ensure that U.S. trade policy and trade negotiation objectives adequately reflect U.S. commercial and economic interests’. ISACs were set up to represent 17 industry sectors and advised the president and the negotiators via the Department of Commerce and the Office of the US Trade Representative. [2]

The Uruguay Round

The last GATT round of negotiations began in 1986 in Uruguay with 108 countries represented. Prior to the Uruguay Round, tariffs had been reduced by 75 percent. Business leaders hoped that the Uruguay Round would achieve further significant reductions and also address non-tariff barriers to trade. Although the Uruguay Round was due to end in 1990, it foundered over a lack of agreement about reductions in protection for agriculture, particularly in Europe, and also conflict over US efforts to extend the agreement to cover services. Business from both sides of the Atlantic lobbied hard.

Within each of the major nations that dominated the GATT negotiations, industry and business had privileged access to influence their country’s negotiating position. The economic or trade ministry officials involved in the negotiations were lobbied extensively by industry at both a national level and an international level by groups such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the OECD’s Business and Industry Advisory Council (BIAC).

In this way, the negotiating positions of the dominant nations reflected business interests rather than a broad spectrum of democratic interests. No other NGOs had the access or influence accorded to business groups. Several large and powerful business organizations campaigned for the successful completion of the Uruguay Round and the expansion of free trade. They included the World Economic Forum (WEF), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), The Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission.

The European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) was a leading lobbying force during the Uruguay Round and it claims some of the credit for the completion of the Round. Its Trade & Investment working group worked closely with the US Business Roundtable in supporting the negotiations.

The Uruguay Round was completed in 1993, with the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as its main outcome.[3]


  1. Sharon Beder, Suiting Themselves: How Corporations Drive the Global Agenda, Earthscan, London, 2006, chapter 6.
  2. Industry Consultation Program, International Trade Administration (accessed 30 June 2003).
  3. Sharon Beder, Suiting Themselves: How Corporations Drive the Global Agenda, Earthscan, London, 2006, chapter 6.