The dispute settlement system under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1947 functioned for nearly 50 years and received more than 300 complaints between contracting parties before being replaced by the WTO’s dispute settlement system. To mark the 70th anniversary of the GATT, the WTO has issued today (14 December) a new publication covering the history and evolution of GATT dispute settlement decisions and procedures.

The publication represents the first comprehensive effort to consolidate information on all disputes during the entire GATT 1947 period (1948-1995). It relies on information from multiple sources, including public and internal records held by the GATT/WTO secretariats.

“This is an ideal moment to look back at various aspects of our GATT heritage,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said in his foreword to the book.

“Through a process of pragmatic experimentation, GATT dispute settlement progressively grew from two specific Articles in the GATT 1947 into an impressive body of dispute settlement rules and practices,” DG Azevêdo noted. “The considerable evolution of GATT dispute settlement is a testament to the resilience and flexibility of the multilateral trading system, as well as the increasing importance of the rule of law in international trade.”

The publication consists of two volumes. The first volume contains a 30-page overview of GATT dispute settlement, a one‑page summary for each identified GATT dispute, recording all relevant steps and documents, and detailed indexes of the information by relevant parties, agreements and provisions. The second volume compiles for the first time all GATT dispute settlement procedures, as well as a selection of other key documents of historical interest. It also compiles information on a plethora of related issues, including details about who were the adjudicators to these disputes.

Suja Rishikesh Mavroidis, Director of the WTO’s Market Access Division, recalled that while the GATT 1947 was terminated in 1995, it has continued relevance for its successor, the WTO.

“The GATT 1947 is incorporated by reference into the WTO Agreement, and many of today’s WTO disputes are concerned with GATT provisions that were developed 70 years ago,” she noted. “It is not just the GATT provisions that have continued WTO relevance. During almost half a century, the provisions of the GATT 1947 were enforced and interpreted in numerous GATT disputes. These disputes have continued legal relevance today, including in WTO dispute settlement.”

John Adank, Director of the WTO’s Legal Affairs Division, said that one important challenge in putting together the book was determining what constituted a GATT dispute, given that no official classification existed at the time. Based on criteria set out by the authors, and which were developed by Prof. Robert Hudec in the early 1990s, the publication identified 316 GATT disputes in total, significantly more than previous estimates. More than half of these disputes took place in the last decade of the GATT, which largely coincided with the Uruguay Round negotiations.

Of these 316 disputes initiated, 157 led to the establishment of some form of adjudicator (mostly a working party or a panel) which then issued 136 reports. Of these 136 reports, 96 were adopted by the GATT membership – representing an overall adoption rate of approximately 71%.

The systematic analysis of the primary sources led to the inclusion of disputes that had not been listed in previous compilations. A dedicated online database is currently under development. It will provide user-friendly access to all data and key documents compiled in the research for this publication.

GATT Disputes: 1948-1995 can be downloaded here. Printed copies can be purchased from the WTO’s Online Bookshop.