The multilateral system lacks a comprehensive framework for investment. Proposals for international investment rules, however, are not new. In 1944, at the Bretton Woods Conference, it was proposed that the International Trade Organisation (ITO) cover investment but the only surviving part of the ITO framework was the set of trade rules and tariff commitments now known as the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade (GATT).
Following the Uruguay Round, new agreements containing some provisions related to investment were concluded in a number of WTO Agreements that deal with specific investment issues. The Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) included the objective of eliminating certain trade distorting measures in respect of local content and trade balancing while the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) covers forms of establishment which corresponds to the notion of foreign direct investment.
WTO work on the interrelationships between trade and investment, which was mandated at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Singapore on 1996 and extended indefinitely in 1998, largely focussed on the development aspects related to trade and investment.
Members were unable to agree on whether or not to launch negotiations on investment at the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancún in September 2003. At the July 2004 General Council meeting, consensus was reached that Investment, along with the other Singapore issues of competition policy and transparency in government procurement would be excluded from the Doha Round of trade negotiations and would be relegated to the WTO working groups.