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The GATT and the WTO


The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as the GATT, is one third of the Bretton Woods system that was created after World War II to ensure a stable trade and economic world environment. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank are the other two bodies of the Bretton Woods system.  While often referred to as an international organization, the GATT had a "de facto" role as an international organization before the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO).   The WTO was established on January 1, 1995 by the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of negotiations.

History and Basic Information

After World War II, the United Kingdom and the United States submitted proposals to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations regarding the establishment of an international trade body that was to be named the International Trade Organization (ITO). That is, perhaps, why the GATT is often referred to as a UN related body and its documents are sometimes mistakenly referred to as UN documents.

ECOSOC convened a conference, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment in 1946 to consider the UK and U.S. proposals. A Preparatory Committee drafted the ITO Charter and it was approved in 1948 at the conference in Havana, Cuba. The Charter is often referred to as the Havana Charter or the ITO Charter.

The first round of trade negotiations took place while the Preparatory Committee was still working on drafting the Charter because the participants were anxious to begin the process of trade liberalization as soon as possible. Their results were incorporated into the General Agreement, which was signed in 1947.

Since the original signatory nations expected the Agreement to become part of the more permanent ITO Charter, the text of the GATT contains very little "institutional" structure. This lack of detail within the agreement has created increasing difficulties as the GATT membership and roles governing trade between so many of the world's nations have grown. The GATT has functioned as an international organization for many years even though it has never been formalized as such.

ECOSOC established an Interim Commission for the ITO that is referred to as ICITO. Unfortunately, when it came time for the members to ratify the ITO Charter, the Congress of the United States refused and the ITO never became a reality. The GATT survived, but remained intact only due to the Protocol of Provisional Application of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade which was concluded in 1947 and which entered into force in 1948.

The GATT completed 8 rounds of multilateral trade negotiations (MTNs). The Uruguay Round (the 8th round) concluded with the signing of the Final Act on April 15, 1994, in Marrakesh, and produced the World Trade Agreement (WTO) and its annexes.

The Contracting Parties:

  • When you see: CONTRACTING PARTIES in capital letters it is referring to the members acting jointly.
  • When you see: contracting parties in lower case letters, it is referring to individual member states.
  • When you see the words: Contracting Parties, they will be in press releases or in published works concerning the GATT.

Locating the Text of the Agreements

Official citations

The official citations for the GATT are: TIAS 1700; 55 U.N.T.S. 194. Its Protocol of Provisional Application is located at TIAS 1700; 55 U.N.T.S. 308.

The WTO agreement has been published in several volumes of U.N.T.S. -- 1867, 1868, and 1869. Consult these volumes for the exact pages that you need. For example, the Final Act Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations is located in 1867 U.N.T.S. 14.

For more details see on Bluebook Citation, see WTO/GATT Research by Jeanne Rehberg.

Sources for the text of GATT and WTO Agreements

United Nations Treaty Series (U.N.T.S.), see above citations. Also available on the UN Treaty Collection database.

Final Act Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round (Geneva: GATT, 1993).

Basic Instruments and Selected Documents (BISD) (Geneva: GATT, 1953-).

Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations: The Legal Texts (Geneva: GATT, 1994).

33 International Legal Materials 1 (1994).

WTO Legal Texts (WTO website) -- provides the legal texts and other major documents. Pre-WTO legal texts are also available. -- provides the legal texts and other documents.

LexisNexis -- select "International Trade" from the Source Directory.

Westlaw -- select "International/Worldwide Materials" from the Directory, then click on "Multi-National Materials" and then click on "Legislation."


Implementing Legislation

Uruguay Round Agreements Act , Pub. L. 103-465, 108 Stat. 4809 (1994), 19 USC 3501. For complete classification of this Act to the Code, see "Short Title" note in the code.

GATT/WTO Documentation

After the basic text of the Agreement, you will often need to use the following GATT publications:

Basic Instruments and Selected Documents (BISD) (Geneva: GATT, 1953-). Also available on LexisNexis.

[WTO] Basic Instruments and Selected Documents (Lanham, MD: Bernan Press, 2003-).

Instruments include protocols, agreements, declarations, procès-verbal, memoranda, certifications, or arrangements. Volume IV of the BISD is published annually in numbered supplements with a cumulative subject index for the series in each volume. The latest supplement published to date is No. 42 covering the 51st Session (1995).

Documents from the different negotiating rounds have been reprinted by the GATT and are also often published by commercial publishers. Check LawCat using the name of the Multilateral Round in a word search: Tokyo, Kennedy, Dillon, Uruguay.

Since the United States is a Contracting Party to the GATT, and now the WTO, you can use Treaties in Force as an index to GATT instruments. Check agreement and accession documents and under "Trade and Commerce - GATT related Agreements" for all other treaty document cites. See also multilateral treaty indexes for this information, such as the Multilateral Treaty Calendar.

GATT/WTO Documents

GATT documents from 1947-1996 used to only be available in microfiche and some libraries still have the fiche. Subject access to the collection is by means of an annual "List and Index." The pre-1983 list contained a list of documents and a broad subject index. Since 1983, the index has an improved subject list, a list of GATT instrument numbers, a product index and a geographical location index. From 1947-1983, the documents are arranged by GATT document number. From 1984 on, use the "List and Index" to locate the appropriate microfiche number. The last set of fiche produced by the GATT were the documents from the Uruguay Round of negotiations (designated "UR" on the microfiche).  There is a separate"List and Index" for this collection of documents. 

There are two collections of GATT documents available on the web. See the GATT Documents collection on the WTO website and the GATT Digital Archive 1947-1994 (Stanford University).

From 1995 to present, WTO documents are available exclusively at the WTO website.  It also contains selected material for the period 1986-1994, principally Uruguay Round documents and a small number of GATT documents. The search engine allows for basic and advanced searches. The browse feature allows the user to browse through "frequently-consulted" documents and documents posted in the last month. Another useful way to locate documents is to use the trade topics pages. These pages allow the researcher to locate documents only on specific topics, like agriculture, intellectual property, services, etc.

Other Publications

Analytical Index: Guide to GATT Law and Practice (Geneva : World Trade Organization, 1995). This is the last edition of a very useful text; it is also the only one with a detailed subject index. It contains notes on the drafting, interpretation and application of the articles of the GATT. It has references to corresponding articles from the Havana Charter and preceding drafts. Check the introduction for a good, brief description of GATT documentation. The Index provides documents symbols from Preparatory Committee meetings from 1946 on.

There is now a WTO Analytical Index: Guide to WTO Law and Practice (Lanham, MD, U.S.A.: Bernan, 2003). The WTO Analytical Index is the authoritative guide to the interpretation and application of findings and decisions of WTO panels, the WTO Appellate Body and other WTO bodies. The Analytical Index is also available on the WTO website.

The GATT Status of Legal Instruments (Geneva: Contracting Parties to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, 1971-1993) overs only the GATT.  It provides, for all GATT instruments, the dates signed, entry into force, registration information, names of signatories, a table of contents, a numerical index to the instruments, and an alphabetical and chronological list of Contracting Parties.

The WTO Status of Legal Instruments(Geneva: WTO Publications, 1996-) provides the same type of information. 

Trade Policy Reviews contain periodic review of national trade policies. Also available on LexisNexis.

Dispute Settlement

Dispute settlement is based on the principles contained in Article XXIII of GATT. Panels are established to consider a dispute after other procedures, such as consultations, fail. The sources listed below contain the full text or summaries of panel decisions.

Basic Instruments and Selected Documents (BISD) (Geneva: GATT, 1953-). Also available on LexisNexis.

[WTO] Basic Instruments and Selected Documents (Lanham, MD: Bernan Press, 2003-).

Handbook of WTO/GATT Dispute Settlement (Irvigton-on-Hudson, New York : Transnational Juris Publications, 1991-).

International Trade Law Reports (London: Cameron May, 1996-). Contains some commentary.

International Trade Reporter (Washington, D.C.:BNA, 1954-). Also available on LexisNexis, Westlaw, and on the BNA publications database through the Law Library website.  Mostly summaries. (UCB only).

Summaries are published in the Federal Register (Washington, DC: Office of the Federal Register, 1936-).

Law and Practice of the World Trade Organization (New York: Oceana, 1995-). Also available electronically.

World Trade Organization Dispute Settlement Decisions: Bernan's Annotated Reporter (Lanham, MD: Bernan Press, 1998-). This set is annotated and is not considered official.

Dispute Settlement Reports (Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press ; [Geneva] : World Trade Organization, 2000-).  This set is not annotated and is considered the "official" WTO version.

WTO Dispute Settlement website. Access is available in a variety of ways: by subject, country, chronologically, and by searching. Information on the process is also available. The Analytical Index also provides access to the jurisprudence of the WTO.

Organization of American States Foreign Trade Information System, GATT reports (1948-1994) and
WTO reports (1996-2006). All of the GATT and WTO panel dispute settlement reports are available from this site in PDF (freely available). You can search all of the GATT and WTO reports using one convenient search mechanism. Of particular interest are the dispute settlement commentaries (UCB only). These documents summarize and provide detailed analysis of all WTO Panel and Appellate Body Reports.

WTO - Dispute Panel Decisions (World Trade Online) (UCB only). These documents summarize and provide detailed analysis of all WTO Panel and Appellate Body Reports.

LexisNexis -- select "International Trade" or "International Law" from the Source Directory. (UCB only). Contains both GATT and WTO reports.

Westlaw -- select "International/Worldwide Materials" from the Directory, then click on "Multi-National Materials" and then click on "Legislation." Contains both GATT and WTO reports.

Secondary Sources

There are many books and articles that deal with various aspects of the GATT and the WTO. To locate relevant books, search LawCat using keywords or subject headings. Some relevant subject headings include:

Antitrust law (International law)
Competition, unfair
Foreign trade regulation
Free trade
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
International economic relations
International trade
Restraint of trade
Tariffs -- Law and legislation
World Trade Organization
World Trade Organization. Appellate Body


Please consult the Sources for Locating Journal Articles guide. This guide will highlight the best sources, beyond full-text articles on Lexis and Westlaw, for locating relevant journal articles. A thorough researcher will search journal indexes in order to find articles on the topic, see Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP), Legal Resource Index (LRI), Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (IFLP), Legal Journals Index (LJI), and Current Index to Legal Periodicals (CILP). Depending on the topic, law-related journal indexes are useful as well.

The Journal of International Economic Law (UCB only) is a particularly good resource for articles, lists of websites, bibliographies, and new books.

Other Useful Sources

Tariff and Services Schedules

Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (Washington: The Commission: US G.P.O., 1987-). Available on the web (unofficially) and in print. 

Interactive Tariff and Trade DataWeb (U.S. International Trade Commission).

Current Awareness (good for paper topic ideas)

International Trade Reporter (Washington, D.C.:BNA, 1954-). Also available on LexisNexis, Westlaw, and on the BNA Publications database through the Law Library website.  Mostly summaries. (UCB only).

WTO Annual Report (Geneva: World Trade Organization, 1996-).

Inside U.S. Trade (Washington, DC: Inside Washington Publishers, 1983-). Electronic version called World Trade Online also available. (UCB only).

WTO Reporter (Washington, D.C.:BNA, 2000-). Only available through the BNA Publications database through the Law Library website. (UCB only).


There are many sites on the Internet which focus on trade and trade-related issues. Listed below is a sampling of some of the sites available. Many of these sites link to other sites. Keep in mind some of the problems with the Internet: there is no authority control, no general indexing, and materials may disappear the next time you use the site.

Finding More Materials and Resources
Other Useful Websites

Lexis / WestLaw


Use the international law or international trade libraries (select these topics under "Area of Law—By Topic"). The relevant sources include:

  • GATT & WTO Panel Reports
  • Basic Documents of International Economic Law (BDIEL)
  • Basic Instruments and Selected Documents (BISD)
  • WTO Dispute Settlement (contains panel reports, appellate body reports and miscellaneous documents)
  • ASIL documents
  • ILM treaties
  • US Treaties

LEXIS also provides much more information related to international law.

  • ASIL (Am. Society of International Law publications)
  • IEL (International Economic Law Documents)
  • ILM (International Legal Materials)
  • ILM-INDX (ILM index)
  • GATT
  • WTO-DEC (WTO & GATT Panel Decisions)
  • USTREATIES (US treaties & international agreements, 6/79-)

Subscription Databases

Prepared by Marci Hoffman, International and Foreign Law Librarian, UC Berkeley Law Library. Revised September 2008.

Last edited by Michael Lindsey, 19 November 2014

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