This Day in the Law
April 15

World Trade Organization Established (1994)

On April 15, 1994, a group of 124 nations signed the Marrakech Agreement and established the World Trade Organization (WTO). Prior to the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was the leading authority on worldwide trade. GATT was formed in 1947 and met for eight rounds from its inception to dissolution in 1994. The eighth round, which was called the Uruguay Round, lasted from 1986 to 1993, and it was out of this round that the World Trade Organization was formed.

In 1982, GATT was identified as having several problems that many felt they simply could not manage. Members of GATT felt that the system was failing to adapt to a more globalizing world economy, and that the system had structural deficiencies. To address these issues, the Uruguay Round of GATT was launched in September 1986, in Punta del Este, Uruguay. These were the most extensive talks on international trade ever. In addition to investigating new trade regulations in the areas of services and intellectual property, all the original GATT articles were also up for review.

The round was supposed to end in December 1990, but the US and the European Union disagreed on how to reform agricultural trade and decided to extend the talks. Finally, in November 1992, the US and EU settled most of their differences in a deal known as “the Blair House accord,” and on April 15, 1994, the deal was signed by ministers from most of the 123 participating governments at a meeting in Marrakech, Morocco. The Marrakech Agreement established the World Trade Organization, which officially came into being on January 1, 1995, replacing the GATT system.

Today, the World Trade Organization continues to supervise international trade and regulates trade between participating nations. The WTO currently has 153 member nations.