Scroll Top

GATT vs. WTO: The Evolution of Trade Regulation

  • Home
  • Trading
  • GATT vs. WTO: The Evolution of Trade Regulation

International trade has undergone a significant transformation over the years, and with it, comes an array of rules and regulations governing its operations.

GATT is an international treaty focused on reducing trade barriers, particularly tariffs on goods, while WTO is a global organization with a broader scope than GATT, covering goods, services, and intellectual property.


The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was primarily focused on reducing tariffs and trade barriers between member countries.The World Trade Organization (WTO) aims to promote global trade by facilitating negotiations and resolving trade disputes among member nations.
It was an international treaty signed by participating countries without an official governing body.It is an international organization with a legal framework, established by the Agreement Establishing the WTO.
GATT primarily covered trade in goods and had limited provisions for trade in services and intellectual property rights.The WTO has a broader scope, covering trade in goods, services, and intellectual property rights, with specific agreements like the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
It had a less formal dispute settlement mechanism, relying on voluntary negotiations and consultations between member countries.It has a more structured and formal dispute settlement system, including panels and the Appellate Body, providing binding rulings on trade disputes.
GATT had a flexible membership, with countries able to participate as contracting parties or observers.The WTO has a more structured membership, with countries becoming full members or observers, and accession negotiations for countries seeking to join the organization.
It existed from 1947 to 1995, and negotiations during this period led to the establishment of the WTO.It was established in 1995, succeeding GATT and incorporating its principles while expanding its mandate and legal framework.

What is GATT?

GATT stands for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It was an international treaty established in 1947 and served as a framework for regulating global trade until it was replaced by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.

GATT aimed to promote international trade by reducing barriers, particularly tariffs, on goods and addressing discriminatory trade practices among member countries.

What is WTO?

The WTO is the successor organization to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was created in 1947. The WTO regulates international trade between its member countries. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows smoothly, predictably, and freely as possible.

The WTO’s headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. It has over 160 member countries, accounting for over 97% of world trade. The WTO’s decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference, which meets at least once every two years. The Conference is attended by representatives of all member governments, who discuss and take decisions on various WTO matters.

How are GATT and WTO similar?

  1. Historical Connection: The WTO is the successor organization to GATT. GATT served as the international trade framework from 1947 to 1995 when it was replaced by the WTO. As a result, there is a strong historical connection between the two.
  2. Trade Liberalization: Both GATT and the WTO share the objective of promoting global trade liberalization. They seek to reduce barriers to trade and create a more open and predictable international trading system.
  3. Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) Principle: The MFN principle, which prohibits discrimination among trading partners, was a fundamental principle of GATT and continues to be a cornerstone of the WTO. Both GATT and the WTO emphasize non-discrimination in international trade.
  4. Trade Dispute Settlement: GATT and the WTO provide mechanisms for resolving trade disputes between member countries. GATT established a dispute settlement system, and the WTO has a more robust and formalized dispute settlement process.

Advantages and disadvantages of GATT and WTO

Advantages of GATT:

  • Reduced tariffs and trade barriers, fostering increased international trade.
  • Established the Most-Favored-Nation principle, promoting non-discrimination among member countries.
  • Provided a framework for resolving trade disputes through negotiation and consultation.

Disadvantages of GATT:

  • Limited in scope, primarily focused on goods and lacking provisions for services and intellectual property.
  • Weaker enforcement mechanisms compared to the WTO’s formalized dispute settlement process.
  • Outdated and superseded by the broader and more comprehensive framework of the WTO.

Advantages of WTO:

  • Comprehensive coverage of goods, services, and intellectual property, addressing a wide range of trade issues.
  • Stronger dispute settlement system, providing a more formalized and binding resolution process.
  • A platform for ongoing negotiations and updates to global trade rules.

Disadvantages of WTO:

  • Complex decision-making process involving multiple member countries, leading to slower progress in negotiations.
  • Criticized for favoring larger economies and putting developing nations at a disadvantage.
  • Challenges in reaching a consensus on contentious issues result in limited progress in some areas.

How to choose between GATT and WTO

  1. GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade):
    • GATT was established in 1947 and served as an international treaty to regulate global trade until it was replaced by the WTO in 1995. However, some of its principles and provisions continue to influence international trade.
    • GATT primarily focused on reducing barriers to trade, particularly through the reduction of tariffs on goods and the elimination of discriminatory trade practices.
    • GATT is more limited in scope compared to the WTO, as it primarily addressed trade in goods rather than the broader range of issues covered by the WTO.
    • If your primary concern is reducing tariffs and addressing discriminatory trade practices specifically related to goods, you may consider using GATT principles.
  2. WTO (World Trade Organization):
    • The WTO is a global organization established in 1995 that replaced GATT and expanded its scope to cover various aspects of international trade, including goods, services, and intellectual property rights.
    • The WTO provides a framework for negotiating and implementing trade agreements, resolving trade disputes, and facilitating the smooth flow of international trade.
    • The WTO covers a wide range of issues beyond tariffs, such as non-tariff barriers, services trade, intellectual property rights, agriculture, investment, and more.
    • If your interests extend beyond goods and you require a comprehensive framework to address a broader spectrum of trade-related issues, the WTO is likely the more suitable choice.

Key differences between GATT and WTO

  1. Scope: GATT primarily focused on trade in goods, while the WTO has a broader scope, covering goods, services, intellectual property, investment, and other trade-related issues.
  2. Legal Status: GATT was an international treaty, whereas the WTO is an international organization with its own legal framework and institutional structure.
  3. Dispute Settlement: GATT had a less formalized and binding dispute settlement process compared to the WTO. The WTO has a stronger and more structured dispute settlement system.
  4. Membership: GATT had a membership of contracting parties, while the WTO has a larger membership of both countries and separate customs territories.
Differences between GATT and WTO


GATT, as an international treaty, focused on reducing trade barriers, primarily in goods. The WTO, as the successor to GATT, expanded the scope to cover goods, services, intellectual property, and more. It introduced a stronger dispute settlement mechanism, and provided a comprehensive framework for global trade While GATT laid the foundation, the WTO represents a more robust and comprehensive organization governing international trade in the modern era.

Featured Posts!
Most Loved Posts
MORE From This Author
Clear Filters