In a video message to open the meeting, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said:
“It is vital that we implement all the elements of the Bali Package without delay — and particularly the decisions on LDC issues. The decision on Operationalising the LDC Services Waiver is one of these, and is extremely important. Services exports from LDCs are increasing rapidly, though of course they are starting from a very low base. We have a duty to support the growth of this sector. I urge potential preference-granting members to indicate where they intend to provide preferential treatment to LDC services and service suppliers. ”
Chairperson Choi Seokyoung of the Republic of Korea reported a “very high level of engagement ” from developed and developing countries in a position to do so who considered treating services exports from LDCs more favourably than those of other WTO members. In their indications, members addressed most of the 74 services sectors in which LDCs have requested preferences.
Some preferences would include: expanding access for the temporary movement of businesspeople (Mode 4) from LDCs for a range of services professions and occupations; waiving fees for business and employment visas for LDC persons; not imposing economic needs and labour market tests for LDC members; and extending the duration of stay of LDC professionals in the markets of preference granting members. These preferences will be implemented once these members have completed their domestic processes and have notified the WTO.
The WTO services agreement, the General Agreement on Trade in Services, specifies that each member shall provide non-discriminatory treatment to services and service suppliers of other WTO members (Most-Favoured Nation principle). The LDC Services Waiver, adopted at the WTO Eighth Ministerial Conference (MC8) in 2011, allows non-LDC members to grant preferences to provide all LDCs greater access to their markets. For the first time, this decision allows WTO members to deviate from their Most-Favoured Nation obligation under the services agreement.
In light of the absence of notifications of specific preferences, Ministers from WTO members decided at the Ninth Ministerial Conference (MC9) in Bali, Indonesia, on 3-6 December 2013 to take further steps towards the operationalization of the waiver.
Building LDCs capacity in services trade
At the high-level meeting, many WTO members mentioned various technical assistance initiatives to improve LDC services export capacity. The initiatives include training programmes for LDC service suppliers and support to upgrade infrastructure. Some members announced new initiatives and measures.
In his concluding remarks, the chairperson noted that this meeting was “one important stepping stone towards the operationalization of the waiver, but not the final concluding step. Today's indications show that we are firmly on the way of a joint journey ”.
Bangladesh’s Minister for Commerce, Tofail Ahmed MP, spoke about the potential of services to support growth in his country. He said: “I urge all our trading partners to come up not only with generous offers, but also with open minds to operationalise the Services Waiver so that we, LDCs, can accelerate our process of development, process of poverty alleviation, process of ensuring minimum needs of our people. In fact, this will also be a positive step to realize the WTO’s goals and spirit.” His full speech is available here.
In her remarks, Uganda’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Amelia Anne Kyambadde, said: “If converted into notifications, many of the interventions today can provide the WTO with a strong deliverable in response to our collective request and contribution to the DDA for the poorest members.” Uganda is coordinating the WTO LDC Group. Her full speech is available here.
The Director-General will help to take forward the outcomes of the meeting and will discuss these issues with the LDC Group on 18 February.
WTO members will assess this high-level meeting at the next Services Council meeting on 19 March.
Members agreed that delegations shall endeavour to notify preferences at the earliest possible, and no later than 31 July 2015.
Learn more about trade in services in the WTO.