GATT Official working languages

The negotiation of the Havana Charter and the General Agreement was conducted in English and French, and since that time these two languages were the working languages of ICITO and the GATT. Rule 33 of the Rules of Procedure of the CONTRACTING PARTIES provides that “Subject to the provisions of Rule 34, English and French shall be the working languages”. Rule 34 provides that “A decision, by unanimous agreement, may be taken at any meeting to adopt a rule of procedure regarding interpretations of a more simple character than Rule 33” (1) Since the beginning of the GATT, all GATT documents were issued in both English and French and interpretation from and into English and French was provided for all formal meetings.

At the Seventeenth Session in November 1960, the representative of Uruguay on behalf of the Spanish-speaking contracting parties urged that the Spanish language be introduced on a progressive basis. On the basis of a study by the Budget Working Party it was agreed to introduce for the year 1961 simultaneous interpretation from Spanish into English and French during plenary meetings of the CONTRACTING PARTIES and the Council, and translation of some texts from Spanish into English and French.(2) At the Nineteenth Session in November 1961, the CONTRACTING PARTIES approved the introduction of simultaneous interpretation at all meetings of committees and working groups from and into English and French and from Spanish into English and French.(3) During the period 1962-1979 the use of Spanish was gradually expanded as the budget permitted. As of 1979, interpretation into Spanish was provided at meetings of the CONTRACTING PARTIES, the Council and the Committee on Trade and Development and for other meetings where many Spanish language experts were present. Publications of the GATT, as well as documents containing decisions, legal texts and reports of committees, working parties or panels, were also issued in Spanish. During the Tokyo Round, most of the Tokyo Round technical documents were also issued in Spanish, and interpretation from and into Spanish was also provided for formal MTN meetings.

After the close of the Tokyo Round negotiations in 1979, the budget estimates for 1980 were established “so as to continue to provide the same services for the implementation of the results of the negotiations, as well as for the other operational activities of the GATT”.(4) This practice was continued [to the close of the organization]. From 1983, all GATT documents were distributed in English, French and Spanish. All Uruguay Round documents were issued in English, French and Spanish and interpretation from and into all three languages was provided for all formal meetings of Uruguay Round negotiating groups.

Source: Analytical Index : Guide to GATT Law and Practice, Vol. 2. Geneva, WTO, 1995, p. 915.