The seeds of the Uruguay Round were sown in November 1982 at a ministerial meeting of those GATT Members involved, held in Geneva. But it took four years of effort during which an attempt was made to explore and elucidate the issues at stake and gradually work towards a consensus, before the ministers, meeting again in September 1986 at Punta del Este (Uruguay), decided to launch the Uruguay Round. They adopted a programme of negotiations encompassing practically all the outstanding problems of trade policy, including the extension of the trading system into several new fields, in particular services and intellectual property rights. These were the most wide-ranging trade negotiations ever undertaken, and the Ministers gave themselves four years in which to complete them.
At the ministerial meeting in Brussels in December 1990, disagreement on the nature of the commitments to be made to reform trade in agricultural products led to the decision to extend the negotiations. In December 1991, a complete draft of the Final Act containing the text of the legal instruments elaborated for all the issues raised at Punta del Este, with the exception of measures relating to access to markets, was presented in Geneva. During the next two years, negotiations oscillated continually between the apparent inevitability of failure and anticipation of imminent success. Several deadlines were set and then not met. Services, access to markets, anti-dumping rules and the proposal to establish the WTO joined agricultural trade as the principal sources of conflict. The differences of opinion between the United States of America and the European Community became the critical issue on which the long desired success of the negotiations came to depend.
In the end, the Final Act embodying the results of the multilateral trade negotiations of the Uruguay Round, was signed on 15 April 1994 at Marrakech, Morocco, by Ministers representing most of the 125 governments that had taken part.
Today, the WTO has 132 Member States. Twenty-nine countries1 have filed applications to join, and talks are under way with the working groups that deal with accessions.
1 32 countries in August 1998
Previous rounds of negotiations had mainly been confined to discussions of how to eliminate trade barriers at the frontiers between countries, making for an optimal expansion of international trade and better use of the world’s wealth. The Uruguay Round was much more ambitious, and was more oriented towards harmonization of national trade policies, particularly in regard to the protection of intellectual property, thereby enlarging the domain of international trade and the jurisdiction of the international organizations active in this field.