Negotiating mandates

The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) explicitly provides for future trade negotiations with a view to achieving “a progressively higher level of liberalization”. According to Article XIX:1, WTO members are committed to enter into successive rounds of negotiations, the first of which was to start “not later than five years from the date of entry into force of the WTO Agreement”, i.e. 1 January 2000. With the launch of the Doha Development Agenda in November 2001, the services negotiations were included in the Doha Round.

In March 2001, the Council for Trade in Services in Special Session approved the ‘Guidelines and Procedures for the Negotiations on Trade in Services’ (S/L/93). The document builds to a large extent on relevant GATS provisions, in particular Article IV (‘Increasing Participation of Developing Countries’) and Article XIX (‘Negotiation of Specific Commitments’). The Guidelines' main content is summarized below.


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Objectives and principles 

The main objectives and principles are:

  • progressive liberalization as enshrined in relevant GATS provisions

  • appropriate flexibility for developing countries, with special priority to be given to least-developed countries

  • reference to the needs of small and medium-sized service suppliers, particularly of developing countries commitment to respect “the existing structure and principles of the GATS” (e.g. the bottom-up approach to scheduling and the four modes of supply).


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  • No sectors or modes are excluded from the scope of the negotiations at the outset.

  • Special attention is to be given to export interests of developing countries.

  • Negotiations will include discussions on eliminating existing exemptions from most-favoured nation treatment in order to ensure equal treatment among all WTO members.

  • The Agreement's rule-making agenda — concerning disciplines on domestic regulation (Article VI:4), emergency safeguards (Article X), government procurement (Article XIII) and subsidies (Article XV) — is integrated into the wider context of the services negotiations.


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Modalities and procedures 

  • Current schedules are the starting point (rather than actual market conditions).

  • Request-offer negotiations are the main approach.

  • Negotiating credit for autonomous liberalization is based on common criteria. These criteria were developed later by the Services Council in ‘Modalities for the Treatment of Autonomous Liberalization’ (TN/S/6).

  • There will be an ongoing assessment of trade in services.

  • The Services Council has the mandate to evaluate the results of the negotiations prior to their completion in the light of Article IV.

In keeping with another mandate under Article XIX:3, the Negotiating Guidelines were complemented later by the 'Modalities for the Special Treatment for Least-Developed Country Members' (TN/S/13). The Modalities are intended to ensure “maximum flexibility” for least-developed countries (LDCs) in the negotiations. Moreover, all members are committed to exercising restraint in seeking commitments from LDCs as well as giving special priority to sectors and modes of export interest to these members in preparing their own schedules.

Paragraph 26 of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration later provided that in recognition of the particular circumstances of LDCs, they are not expected to undertake new commitments.

In turn, LDCs are called upon to indicate their priority sectors and modes so that these can be taken into account. Referring to Mode 4, the Modalities recognize the potential benefits provided by the movement of natural persons to both sending and recipient countries. Furthermore, members envisage, to the extent possible and consistent with Article XIX of the GATS, to undertake commitments on that mode taking into account “all categories of natural persons identified by LDCs in their requests”.

Recognizing that countries have continued to liberalize and introduce significant domestic regulatory reforms outside of the GATS negotiations, modalities for the treatment of autonomous liberalization were also adopted by the Council for Trade in Services in Special Session (TN/S/6). These modalities provide criteria for assessing the value of autonomous liberalization and the procedures for how such liberalization could be treated in the context of the current round of services negotiations.

In addition to the market access negotiations, there are also mandates to further develop certain rule-making areas of the GATS. The Working Party on Domestic Regulation is mandated to develop disciplines in the area of domestic regulation as provided for in Article VI.4. The Working Party on GATS Rules has three negotiating mandates: emergency safeguard measures (Article X), government procurement (Article XIII) and subsidies (Article XV).