General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
TypeMultilateral Treaty
Signed30 October 1947 (1947-10-30)
LocationGeneva, Geneva Canton, Switzerland

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is a legal agreement between many countries, whose overall purpose was to promote international trade by reducing or eliminating trade barriers such as tariffs or quotas. According to its preamble, its purpose was the "substantial reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers and the elimination of preferences, on a reciprocal and mutually advantageous basis."

The GATT was first discussed during the United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment and was the outcome of the failure of negotiating governments to create the International Trade Organization (ITO). It was signed by 23 nations in Geneva on 30 October 1947, and took effect on 1 January 1948. It remained in effect until the signature by 123 nations in Marrakesh on 15 April 1994, of the Uruguay Round Agreements which established the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 1 January 1995. The WTO is the successor to the GATT, and the original GATT text (GATT 1947) is still in effect under the WTO framework, subject to the modifications of GATT 1994.[1][2] Nations that were not party in 1995 to the GATT need to meet the minimum conditions spelled out in specific documents before they can accede; in September 2019, the list contained 36 nations.[3]

The GATT, and its successor the WTO, have succeeded in reducing tariffs. The average tariff levels for the major GATT participants were about 22% in 1947, but were 5% after the Uruguay Round in 1999.[4] Experts attribute part of these tariff changes to GATT and the WTO.[5][6][7]

Following the United Kingdom's vote to withdraw from the European Union, supporters of leaving the EU suggested that Article 24, paragraph 5B of the treaty could be used to maintain a "standstill" in trading conditions between the UK and the EU in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal, hence preventing the introduction of tariffs. According to proponents of this approach, it could be used to implement an interim agreement pending negotiation of a final agreement lasting up to ten years.[25]

This claim formed the basis of the so-called "Malthouse compromise" between Conservative party factions as to how to replace Malthouse compromise" between Conservative party factions as to how to replace the withdrawal agreement.[26] However, this plan was rejected by parliament.[27] The claim that Article 24 might be used was also adopted by Boris Johnson during his 2019 campaign to lead the Conservative Party.

The claim that Article 24 might be used in this way has been criticised by Mark Carney, Liam Fox and others as being unrealistic given the requirement in paragraph 5c of the treaty that there be an agreement between the parties in order for paragraph 5b to be of use as, in the event of a "no-deal" scenario, there would be no agreement. Moreover, critics of the GATT 24 approach point out that services would not be covered by such an arrangement.[28][29]

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