An Empirical Analysis of Apartheid South Africa's Ideas and Practices in the GATT: 1947 to 1994

  • Fazil Ismail

Student thesis: Phd


South Africa is a developing country. It has been an active participant in the multilateral trading system since the creation of the new democratic government in May 1994. However, the country's role in the history of the multilateral trading system before this was very different. South Africa was a founding member of the GATT in 1947. The apartheid regime positioned itself within the organisation as a developed country and behaved as such. This study examines over 800 GATT documents on the country's participation in the GATT from 1947 to 1994. These documents have not been examined or studied before in any comprehensive manner.Although there is a vast literature on the history of the GATT, much of this is written from an orthodox standpoint, especially on the role of developing countries (Bhagwati, 2002; Srinivasan, 1998; Hoekman and Kostecki, 1995; Martin and Messerlin, 2007). More recently, there has been some revisionist academic literature on the GATT (Wilkinson, 2006, 2014; Wilkinson and Scott, 2008). This empirical study contributes to the work of the revisionists.An examination of the GATT documentation raises three main questions that this study sets out to examine. First, why did Apartheid South Africa project itself as a developed country in the GATT from its formation in 1947? Second, how was South Africa able to implement its domestic protectionist and discriminatory policies and still adhere to the ideas and principles of the GATT? And third, why did the major players in the GATT reflect a tendency to deviate from the main ideas and principles of the GATT in their trade practices vis-a-vis South Africa?John Ruggie's work on ideas and multilateralism and his concept of 'embedded liberalism' to describe the post-war multilateral economic institutions, including the GATT, is utilised to analyse the above questions.This study argues that while Ruggie's work is helpful in setting out the main ideas that drove the creation of the GATT and that became the core principles of the organisation, this analytical work on the multilateral trading system is incomplete and will need to be extended by other theoretical work. The GATT documentation reveals that there was a gap between the ideals of the multilateral trading system and the practice of both South Africa and the developed countries within the organisation. While they both professed their commitment to the GATT ideas of liberalisation, non-discrimination and reciprocity, their practices often tended towards protectionism, discrimination and the exclusion of developing countries. To explain this contradictory behaviour this study has drawn on the revisionist history of the GATT. This extended analytical framework is utilised to analyse the GATT documentation on South Africa.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Hulme (Supervisor) & Rorden Wilkinson (Supervisor)


  • GATT, Apartheid, South Africa, Multilateral, Trade, WTO

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