The world had few working international structures in the immediate aftermath of the first of the 20th century’s global conflicts. There was no world system of rules to govern trade, investment, finance or commercial relations. That the private sector should start filling the gap without waiting for governments was ground-breaking. It was an idea that took hold.
Although they did not know it at the time, the pioneers were creating an organization that would become essential to the global economy. Over the years, ICC has taken a central role in international trade and business. It forges international rules, mechanisms and standards that are used every day throughout a vastly more complex world than that of 1919.
The original nucleus of businessmen from five countries has expanded to become a world business organization with hundreds of thousands of member companies in more than 120 countries. Members include many of the world’s biggest multinationals as well as small- and medium-sized companies.
Much of ICC’s early impetus came from its first president, Etienne Clémentel, a former French minister of commerce. Under his leadership, the new organization’s international secretariat was established in Paris. Mr Clémentel was also instrumental in creating the ICC International Court of Arbitration in 1923.
From the very beginning, ICC spoke out on behalf of business in making representations to governments and intergovernmental organizations. Three ICC members served on the Dawes Commission, which drew up the international treaty on war reparations in 1924.
In the 1920s, ICC focused on reparations and war debts. Then the disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariff in the United States set the scene for the economic nationalism of the 1930s. ICC struggled through those years of depression to hold back the tide of protectionism as another world war loomed.
ICC issued the first version of its Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits, still used by banks all over the world to finance trade, in 1933. Incoterms® the standard trade definitions that are familiar to every trader came in 1936, updated whenever necessary since then. And, the following year, ICC introduced its first International Code of Advertising Practice.
ICC was awarded the highest level consultative status with the United Nations (UN) in 1946, and since then has represented the private sector by engaging in a broad range of activities with the UN and its specialized agencies.
ICC has remained a diligent advocate of the open multilateral trading system through successive trade rounds, including the Doha Round. As ICC membership included more and more countries in the developing world, the organization stepped up demands for the opening of world markets to their products, especially agriculture.
To meet the needs of its members, ICC has expanded its activities over the years. ICC Commercial Crime Services, based in London, was founded in the 1980s to address all aspects of commercial crime. The World Chambers Federation provides a hub for chambers of commerce throughout the world.
Today, 13 ICC commissions comprising experts from the private sector cover specialized fields of immediate concern to international business. Subjects range from banking techniques to taxation, from competition law to intellectual property rights, telecommunications and information technology, from transport, environment and energy to international investment and trade policy.
All these activities fulfill the pledge in ICC’s constitution “to further the development of an open world economy with the firm conviction that international commercial exchanges are conducive to both greater global prosperity and peace among nations.”