GATT Document derestriction

In the context of the creation of a comprehensive digital archive of GATT documents, the General Council of the World Trade Organization (the successor organization to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) decided on 15 May 2006 to derestrict unconditionally the GATT document collection (WT/L/647).

The historical procedures by which the GATT progressively released its documents to the public are described below.

Procedures for the circulation and distribution of GATT documents are described in the following document:

L/2737   Derestriction of Documents - Current Procedures (25/01/1967)

Procedures for the circulation and distribution of documents of the Preparatory Committee for the World Trade Organization are described in the following document:

PC/4   Preparatory Committee for the World Trade Organization - Derestriction of documents of the Preparatory Committee and its subsidiary bodies - Decision of 30 November 1994 (02/11/1994)

A full description of these practices and policies was included in the GATT Analytical Index, the text of which is reproduced in its entirety below.

Extracted from: Analytical Index: Guide to GATT Law and Practice. WTO, (1995 . pp. 1116-1118)

Document issuance and circulation

All GATT documents, with a few exceptions, are issued as “Restricted” documents. Documents issued as unrestricted documents include Decisions of the Contracting Parties, documents in the INF/ series and a few others. Restricted documents are issued by the Secretariat only to representatives of contracting parties and of those governments and international organizations which are invited to send observers to meetings of various GATT bodies.

In 1955, the Executive Secretary noted that a representative of a contracting party had called his attention to the necessity for using the reports of Review Session Working Parties in connection with legislative consideration of amendments to the General Agreement, and observed that “The classification Restricted should not, however, prevent a government from revealing to its appropriate legislative authorities any portion of a working party report which it considers necessary for the adequate understanding of the amendments. It is recognized that, where it is the practice to publish legislative hearings, this may result in the publication of certain parts of the Working Party reports before the normal date on which the complete document would be derestricted and become available for general public use. The Executive Secretary has so informed the contracting party concerned and invites other contracting parties to be guided by the same interpretation”.(1)

The Decision of 21 July 1993 on “Observer Status of Governments in the Council of Representatives” provides that “Observer governments shall have access to the main GATT document series”.(2)

Derestriction procedures

Early Sessions of the CONTRACTING PARTIES provided, as a routine item of closing business, for derestriction after the end of the Session, of all session documents, including any other issued since the close of the previous Session, with a few exceptions such as the summary records of the current Session.(3)  Procedures for the derestriction of documents were adopted at the Fourth, Sixth, Fourteenth and Twenty-third Sessions of the CONTRACTING PARTIES.(4)  In 1967, a consolidation of the procedures in force was set out in L/2737, as follows:

  COM.I/, COM.III/, and AC/ series, now discontinued, have been derestricted. INF/ series and GATT press releases are not subject to restriction.

Document series which have come into existence since 1967 have been submitted to the CONTRACTING PARTIES for periodic derestriction, with some exceptions. The procedure in recent years has been for the Secretariat to propose a list of documents for derestriction twice a year, allowing governments and intergovernmental organizations sixty days to request that a document or portion thereof remain restricted. Occasionally documents have been derestricted outside of these twice-yearly exercises at a contracting party’s request, subject to the same 60-day requirement,(6)  Or immediately upon decision at a Council meeting.(7)  Decisions on derestriction or derestriction practices have also been made with respect to types of documents, document series or a specific document.(8)  A list of documents recently derestricted and those remaining restricted is issued twice a year in the INF/ series.

A series of consultations on document derestriction were conducted in the GATT Council in 1993-94. At the Fiftieth Session in December 1994, the Chairman noted that delegations had been unable to reach consensus before the last meeting of the Council in 1994, as some were interested primarily in the treatment of documents to be issued in the future under the auspices of the WTO, while others thought that any change in procedures should not apply to past GATT documents, given expectations of confidentiality when those documents were issued. A number of delegations had therefore proposed that informal consultations be held to establish procedures for issuance and derestriction of WTO documents; in the light of such consultations procedures for issuance and derestriction of GATT 1947 documentation could then be reviewed.(9)  

Panel reports and the roster of non-governmental panelists

At its meeting on 4 May 1988, “the Council agreed that in future, panel reports would be derestricted upon their adoption by the Council or the CONTRACTING PARTIES unless, prior to adoption, a party to the dispute had informed the Council Chairman or CONTRACTING PARTIES” Chairman that it opposed derestriction in that particular case. The Secretariat would check with the parties to a dispute prior to the Council meeting or CONTRACTING PARTIES “Session in this connection”.(10)  At its meeting on 21 June 1994, the Council agreed that the roster of non-governmental panelists would be issued henceforth as an unrestricted document in the L/ series.(11)  

Documents associated with negotiating rounds

Eight negotiating rounds have been conducted in the GATT: 1947 (Geneva), 1949 (Annecy), 1950 (Torquay), 1956 (Geneva), 1960-61 (Dillon Round), 1962-67 (Kennedy Round), 1974-79 (Tokyo Round) and the Uruguay Round. Essentially all documents relating to these rounds remain restricted. Uruguay Round documentation, too, has been issued in restricted document series; on 30 March 1994, the Uruguay Round Trade Negotiations Committee decided on derestriction procedures for Uruguay Round documents.(12)  

Documents of bodies established under separate agreements

When the Committees administering the Tokyo Round Agreements were first convened in early 1980 and 1981, each of those bodies decided that working documents and minutes would never be derestricted and that the secretariat should make a proposal annually regarding other documents to be derestricted at the end of the year and that these documents would be derestricted if no delegation objected to the proposal.(13)  Under these procedures, the bodies mentioned thereunder propose a list of documents for derestriction annually. On occasion a document has also been derestricted by a decision of the body issuing it.(14)  Certain other bodies of limited membership have also established their own document derestriction policies.(15)