What Was the Uruguay Round?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Uruguay Round is the name given to the eighth round of international talks and agreements on economic issues undertaken by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The Uruguay Round was the replacement for the earlier meeting of the GATT that took place in Geneva in 1982. The original meeting took place in Punta del Este in Uruguay in September of 1986, and continued until April of 1994.

The GATT was created in 1947, out of a failure of a number of participating governments to agree on a more cohesive International Trade Organization (ITO). In the fallout of World War II, the wealthiest nations in the world met at the Bretton Woods Conference to set out new organizations to help regulate global finance. While two major organizations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were created without much debate, a regulatory body, originally envisioned as the ITO and later more fully realized as the World Trade Organization (WTO), was unable to garner full support from all parties. So for the next 48 years the GATT served as a sort of stop-gap measure, with periodic rounds of agreements to update its role in the global economy.

In 1982, the GATT parties issued a Ministerial Declaration which laid out a number of problems that the GATT was unable to regulate in the world economic structure. Chief among these were the impacts of the policies of some member countries on world-wide trade, and certain structural deficiencies in the GATT itself. As a result, a new, much more comprehensive set of agreements was seen as being needed. Member countries came together in Uruguay to begin laying out completely new structures, reviewing all of the existing forms of the GATT, and looking towards a much more cohesive future accord.

Four years were originally planned for the Uruguay Round to take place over, with members discussing and arguing over implementation during that time, and finally signing an agreement in 1990. Negotiations occurred in Geneva, Montreal, Washington, D.C., Brussels, and Tokyo, with countries trying to come to compromises in their different positions. By 1990, it was apparent that at least one major sticking point, between the European Union and the United States over agricultural trade reforms, was not going to be resolve in time.

So the Uruguay Round was extended for another four years. In late 1992 the two parties came to an agreement, in what would come to be called the Blair House Accord, and in April of 1994 the new deal was signed by representatives from nearly all of the participating 123 countries, in Marakesh, Morocco. One of the major creations of the Uruguay Round was the World Trade Organization, which replaced the GATT, and came into effect on 1 January 1995.

The Uruguay Round was, without a doubt, the largest trade negotiation ever, and may very well have been the largest negotiation ever. It set out rules and principles to cover all global trade, from banking to consumer products. Many people leveled criticisms at the Uruguay Round, with the harshest being that the agreement paid scant attention to the developing nations that had little voice in the meeting, and gave preferential treatment to the industrialized nations most represented by ministers there. In spite of this, the Uruguay Round remained the dominant force dictating global trade until the Doha Development Round of 2001.

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