2007: what a year!!! marks 60 years of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, (or
The history of international trade can be traced back to the start of human civilization itself. Not that there were nations at that time but the first civilizations were generally settled across river beds and kept shifting. As times passed, they began to settle at a place and as they grew, came the principle of division of labour and specialization. And then the trade started; across cultures, across people, across places. The medieval era was marked by fixed international trading routes and the history of Constantinople tells it all.
But in the modern times, the prominence of the event is marked by the Great Depression, that followed the First World War. Facing economic crisis, trading nations being to impose heightened tariffs (or 'Customs duties') on goods coming into their territorial borders from other countries. The United States, infamously, levied duty to the tune of even 1000 percent on some goods. What followed was an international tug-o-war between nations, competing each other on imposing higher tariffs.
This led to wishful thinking of a rule-based regime in international trading systems. The problem was sought to be addressed at the Bretton Woods Conference, which led to the culmination of three international institutions; International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (or World Bank); and the International Trade Organization (ITO). While the IMF and the World Bank survived the political onslaught and fierce criticism of the third-world countries, the ITO died a political death. President Henry Truman of the
But what survived for the interim measure; the
However the troubles were far from being over. While the second Ministerial Conference went on to promulgate new rules for international trade, the third one in
The huge scouting by these NGOs and the formation of various developing countries blocks forced the next Ministerial (at Doha) to rewrite the entire agenda as a development-based one. Initiated in 2001, it was planned to be over by 2003 (i.e. by Cancun Ministerial) but issued spilled over. Things could not be packed even by 2005 (i.e. till the Hong Kong Ministerial), despite an in-principle agreement being reached in August 2004.
And here we stand, in 2007, with the institution facing a crisis and dilemma as to the future course of action. The EC has its own internal issues to tackle and thus has never been able to contribute much for the growth of international trading. The
What is at stake is not only the institution but national faiths in an international trading regime. I cannot predict the outcome of this tussle between the north and the south but one thing is for sure; the solution does not seem imminent.