Topics handled by WTO committees and agreements
Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

Services negotiations

The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) mandates WTO member governments to progressively liberalize trade in services through successive rounds of negotiations. Under the mandate of Article XIX, the latest round of negotiations began in January 2000. In March 2001 the Guidelines and Procedures for the Negotiations on Trade in Services were adopted by the Council for Trade in Services. At the Doha Ministerial Conference in November 2001 the services negotiations became part of the “single undertaking” under the Doha Development Agenda, whereby all subjects under the negotiations are to be concluded at the same time.

The Doha mandate
The Doha mandate explained
General Agreement on Trade in Services

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See also:
Development aspects of the Doha Round


Background and state of play    back to top

 

News on the negotiations    back to top

 

Major areas of services negotiations    back to top

There are four major areas of services negotiations:

 

Negotiations process    back to top

Negotiations in the Doha Round are being conducted essentially on two tracks:

  • bilateral and/or plurilateral negotiations to improve market conditions for trade in services — this mostly involves improving specific commitments on market access and national treatment (i.e. ensuring that privileges given to local companies are also given to foreign companies) and promoting most-favoured nation treatment (more equal treatment among WTO members)

  • multilateral negotiations among all WTO members to establish any necessary rules and disciplines (such as on domestic regulation, emergency safeguard measures, government procurement and subsidies) which will apply to the whole WTO membership, with certain special provisions for developing and least-developed countries.

 

Proposals for the negotiations    back to top

At the start of the negotiations, WTO members tabled proposals regarding both the structure and the contents of the negotiations. These proposals highlight the main areas of interest for individual members and/or groups of members. Often the proposals provide background information and suggestions for improving trade conditions in a particular sector. Currently, there are virtually no new proposals being tabled as work has moved on to the request-offer process.

 

Special Sessions   back to top

The Council for Trade in Services (meeting in “special session”) is the body responsible for overseeing the negotiations. All subsidiary bodies, such as the Working Party on Domestic Regulation and the Working Party on GATS Rules, report to the Council .

Current chairperson of Special Sessions of the Council for Trade in Services.
  

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TIMELINE

January 2000: Negotiations begin

March 2001: Guidelines and the Procedures for the Negotiations on Trade in Services are adopted

November 2001: Doha Development Agenda is adopted

March 2003: Deadline for receiving “initial offers”

July 2004: “July Package” resuscitates negotiations and establishes deadline of May 2005 for submission of revised offers

December 2005: Hong Kong Ministerial Conference reaffirms key principles of services negotiations

July 2006: Doha negotiations suspended

January 2007: Resumption of Doha negotiations

May 2008: Report on services issued

July 2008: Services Signalling Conference held as part of “July 2008” package. Ministers exchange signals on what improvements could be expected in services.

2009:  Slowdown in negotiations overall due to failure to conclude agriculture and NAMA modalities as part of the “July 2008” package.

March 2010: Stocktaking exercise conducted by the TNC to revive the negotiations. Report by the Chairman of the Council for Trade in Services in Special Session for the purpose of the stocktaking.

December 2010: General Council calls for intensification of DDA negotiations across all areas.

April 2011: Report by the Chairman of the Council on Trade in Services to the Trade Negotiations Committee, representing the state of play in the services negotiations on market access, domestic regulation disciplines, GATS rules and the LDC waiver.

December 2011:  Eighth Ministerial Conference adopts a waiver to permit WTO members to grant preferential treatment to services and service suppliers from LDCs


COMMITMENTS

Schedules of commitments specify the levels of market access (e.g. whether there are any restrictions on the number of service suppliers) and national treatment (e.g. whether some privileges given to local companies will also be given to foreign companies) as well as any additional commitments a member is prepared to make in a particular sector. So, for example, if a government commits itself to allow foreign banks to operate in its domestic market, that is a market-access commitment. And if the government limits the number of licences it will issue, that is a market-access limitation. If it subjects foreign banks to higher minimum capital requirements than domestic banks, that is a national-treatment limitation.