WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO

20 July 2000

Services week 5 - 14 July 2000

Since the new services negotiations started in February 2000, services meetings happen in sessions called the “Services weeks”. Over a week, or a week and a half, the services council and its subsidiary committees meet, one after the other.

In July 2000, the following services meetings took place:

5 July

7 July

11 July

12 July

13 July

14 July

Council for Trade in Services
Review of MFN exemptions

GATS Rules working party

Specific Commitments

Domestic Regulations working party

Financial Services Committee

Council for Trade in Services — Special session (continued)

Council for Trade in Services — Special session

Council for Trade in Services

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Council for Trade in Services — Review of Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) exemptions

This was the second Services Council session on the review of MFN exemptions. The first such session took place on 29 May 2000. The exercise, which took the shape of a question-and-answer exchange, provided additional information on Members' exemptions. The exercise will be continued in October, mainly to address the question of the “determination of the date of any further review”.

Members also agreed to look at other issues arising from the review, such as the procedures to be followed for amending MFN exemptions, in the Services Council meeting in October 2000.

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Working Party on GATS Rules

The working party is responsible for the negotiations of services rules on safeguards, subsidies and government procurement.

On safeguards, the Members have concentrated so far on an ASEAN concept paper containing elements of possible rules on emergency safeguard measures for trade in services as well as on a list of key questions prepared by the Chairman of the working party. At this meeting, ASEAN announced it was revising its paper and would present the new version to the working party in the Autumn.

Members have until 15 December 2000 to negotiate rules on safeguards.

On subsidies, the European Communities (EC) presented an informal paper outlining its internal policy in the field of subsidies or state aid, particularly for services. At the same time, members agreed that the Chairman would draft by the end of July a check-list of issues which the working party should look at to help structure its debate at future meetings. This check-list will include issues such as: definition of a subsidy, existing evidence of trade-distorting subsidies, to what extent WTO rules already discipline subsidies in services (for example, WTO rules on national treatment and on MFN), and the role of subsidies in relation to development.

On government procurement, the EC put forward an informal paper highlighting possible areas of discussion. The EC proposes to focus on the application of non-discrimination and transparency principles to government procurement of services.

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Committee on Specific Commitments

For the purpose of negotiation and commitment making, services must be classified. The WTO currently uses a list which dates from the Uruguay Round of negotiations. Members are looking at the need to create new classifications for new services (for example, some environmental services and energy services) or the need to reclassify certain existing services. The committee is also revising the scheduling guidelines which will be used during the market access services negotiations.

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Working Party on Domestic Regulations

Several Members informed the working party on their consultations with domestic professional organizations regarding the applicability of the accountancy disciplines to other professions. In general, these organizations think the disciplines are useful and relevant and could apply, with some changes for each profession, to them.

The Members went on to discuss concepts relating to the development of regulatory disciplines based on a draft Secretariat Check-list of issues currently under discussion, focusing primarily on the concepts of necessity and transparency.

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Committee on Financial Services

The Committee examined the status of acceptance of the Fifth Protocol on Financial Services. Nine members are yet to accept the Protocol.

Members discussed, based on a proposal by Australia, the desirability of initiating work in relation to prudential regulation. Some Members suggested that regulatory issues in general, including prudential measures, could be taken up to enhance understanding of relevant issues. A proposal that the Committee seek more information on regulatory work from international organizations such as the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, the Basel Committee of Banking Regulators and the International and the International Organization of Securities Commission, was also discussed. The Committee decided to conduct informal consultations on how to proceed on this issue before the next meeting in October.

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Special session of the Services Council on negotiations

Members first addressed the establishment of guidelines for negotiations. They discussed a paper prepared by the Secretariat on possible elements for inclusion in the guidelines. The EC also presented an informal paper containing drafting elements for the guidelines.

The Council then discussed the assessment of trade in services and agreed to a seminar, to be held in the autumn, on the collection of statistics on services.

Under the agenda item “Other matters relating to the negotiations”, the United States presented a paper on the framework for negotiation. The Council also discussed two papers, by the delegations of Australia and the EC, on the use of "clusters" techniques in the negotiations.

Finally, under the agenda item “Tourism Services”, the Council continued to discuss a proposal by the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Honduras of a GATS Annex on Tourism. The Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization, Mr. Francesco Frangialli, called for the recognition of the specificity of tourism services and for the creation of an annex on tourism services. Members discussed the organizational arrangements and content of a proposed symposium on tourism services.

The Chairpersons of the subsidiary bodies reported orally to the Special Session on the progress of work in their respective committees and working parties.

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Council for Trade in Services

The Council continued its discussion of the review of the Understanding on accounting rates in basic telecommunications. A report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) on their work on reforming the accounting rates system helped to inform Members' discussions.

Members then addressed the issue of notifications under Article V of the GATS on Economic integration agreements, and discussed, inter alia, ways of improving their timeliness.

Finally, the delegation of Brazil submitted a revised schedule of commitments in basic telecommunications. Due to the late submission, the Council agreed to revert to this matter at its next meeting.