Members also discussed e-commerce and reducing barriers to services suppliers seeking to access foreign markets in a meeting of the Trade in Services Council on 7 October.
Proposal for a trade facilitation agreement for services
WTO members discussed a new proposal by India for an agreement to ease global services trade, with the aim of reducing bottlenecks that services and services suppliers face. These include high fees, opaque and cumbersome procedures and complex requirements for licensing and movement of persons. The proposal builds upon the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in goods, which aims to streamline customs procedures as a means of cutting the time and cost involved in moving goods across borders.1 Many members expressed interest in the proposal and invited India to provide more details.
The proposed agreement would set provisions on all four modes of services supply of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). For services supplied through “mode 3” (a foreign company setting up subsidiaries or branches to provide services in another country), it suggests streamlining the setting up of businesses through a “single window”. For the cross-border movement of services suppliers (known as “mode 4”), it suggests simplifying work permit and visa procedures and ensuring that measures relating to taxation, fees and social security contributions do not unfairly disadvantage foreign service suppliers.
Other suggestions include enhancing cooperation among authorities, facilitating cross-border data flows, and allowing WTO members to comment on measures before their entry into force. The proposal also foresees special and differential treatment for developing countries.
While several members said their capitals are still reviewing the proposal, they questioned India on the implications on members' domestic regulations, and the expected benefits for developing and developed members. Some members said that the proposal touched upon sensitive issues, such as “public education and health services”.
Proposal on domestic regulation in services
Services negotiators welcomed another proposal by eight members2 to simplify the way members handle the authorization processes for the licensing and qualification requirements of services suppliers. This includes the use of a single window, accepting electronic applications, and ensuring that application fees are reasonable and do not in themselves restrict the supply of a service.
Australia said this proposal would be complemented by further proposals on how licensing procedures and qualification requirements should be developed.
The Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) Group requested that they be exempt from taking on any new obligations and several developing countries highlighted the importance of special provisions for all developing countries.
Proposals for seminars on e-commerce and mode 4
Most members welcomed a proposal by several members3 to hold a workshop in the Council for Trade in Services on the services-related aspects of e-commerce. For some, the priority would be to help developing countries to enhance their understanding of and participation in e-commerce.
WTO members have renewed their commitment not to impose customs duties on e-commerce transmissions at each Ministerial Conference. Ministers last extended the moratorium at the Nairobi Ministerial Conference in December 2015.
India suggested holding a dedicated discussion or a seminar on barriers that restrict access of members' services suppliers to foreign markets through mode 4 of the GATS, without focusing on any specific measure by any specific member. Members called on India to submit a written proposal for analysis.
1. The TFA was inserted into the WTO rulebook in November 2014 following adoption by the General Council. It will enter into force once two-thirds of WTO members have ratified it. To date, 94 members have done so.back to text
2. The proposal was submitted by Australia, Chile, Colombia, the European Union, Mexico, Norway, Republic of Korea, and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. back to text
3. The co-sponsors of the seminar are Australia, Colombia, Hong Kong (China), Israel, Korea, Mexico, Panama, Singapore, the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, and the United States. back to text