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International Finance Discussion Papers
The International Finance Discussion Papers logo links to the International Finance Discussion Papers home page The GATT's Contribution to Economic Recovery in Post-War Western Europe
Douglas A. Irwin
1993-442  (March 1993)

Abstract:  By freeing Europe's regional and international trade from tariffs and other trade barriers, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) has often been hailed as a key factor in promoting the post-war economic recovery in Western Europe and in preventing a return to the disaster of the interwar period. This paper describes and assesses the contribution of the GATT in supporting economic recovery in Western Europe in the decade after 1947. The formation of the GATT by itself does not appear to have stimulated a particularly rapid liberalization of world trade during this period. It is therefore difficult to attribute much of a role to the GATT in the dramatic economic recovery during the immediate post-war period beyond that of an effective supporting actor. The principal contribution of the GATT during its first decade of operation rests more in securing binding agreements on early tariff reductions, thereby preventing countries from instituting higher tariffs as import quotas and foreign exchange controls were being phased out during the 1950s under the auspices of other international institutions. Yet despite the GATT's weaknesses on several fronts, the institution succeeded in establishing among major countries a fairly credible commitment to an open and stable environment for world trade that fostered the post-war rise in trade and income.

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