The WTO is not simply a continuation of the GATT; it has a completely different character. The main differences are as follows:
• The GATT was a series of rules, a multilateral agreement without an institutional foundation and with just an ad hoc secretariat, originating from the attempt to establish an International Trade Organization in the 1940s. The WTO is a permanent institution with its own secretariat.
• The GATT was applied on a “provisional basis” even if, after more than 40 years of existence, governments came to regard it as a permanent commitment. Commitments entered into under the aegis of the WTO exist in their own right and are permanent.
• The GATT rules applied to trade in goods. The WTO covers not just goods, but also trade in services and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.
• The GATT was originally a multilateral instrument but, towards the 1980s, several new agreements of a plurilateral and hence optional nature were added to it. The agreements* on which the WTO is founded are almost all multilateral and therefore carry with them commitments to which all Members have subscribed.
• The WTO system for the settlement* of disputes is faster and more automatic, and thus less susceptible to blockages than the former GATT system. The implementation of the decisions resulting from the WTO settlement of disputes will be better assured.
The WTO fulfils five essential tasks:
1. Administration of the new multilateral trade agreements.
2. Provision of a forum for fresh negotiations.
3. Settlement of disputes.
4. Surveillance of national trade policies.
5. Cooperation with other international bodies in drawing up of economic policies at the global level.