In the proposal, the co-sponsors argue that removing barriers to trade in environmental services would reduce the costs of implementing environmental policies and help governments achieve environmental objectives. In the classification system used for services in the WTO, environmental services include sewage, refuse disposal, sanitation, noise abatement, cleaning of exhaust gases, and environmental protection services.
The co-sponsors expressed interest in improving the market access commitments that WTO members have made in the sector in their respective schedules under the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), given that existing levels of commitments are modest. Out of the 164 WTO members, 59 members (counting the European Union as one) have commitments in at least some environmental services.
The paper highlights, among other things, that technological advances have opened new opportunities for cross-border supply of services, also known as “mode 1”, and stressed that members' commitments under “mode 3” — supplying services through a commercial presence — can help attract investments and encourage the diffusion of green technology. The co-sponsors expressed the hope that members' schedules could be improved so as to at least reflect the current level of openness for the environmental services sector.
Members speaking at the meeting emphasized how trade in this sector is linked to meeting environmental objectives and outlined their particular market access interests. They also shared national experiences with some pointing to the commitments they have undertaken in regional trade agreements that go beyond what they committed to do under the GATS.
Some members observed that other services sectors were also relevant from an environmental standpoint, pointing, for example, to certain engineering, research and development, and construction services. The full list of services sectors covered by the GATS is here.
The need to keep in mind flexibilities for developing countries in any future negotiation was also stressed, while some delegations said that the negotiating context in other areas would have to be taken into account.
The communication debated at the meeting was made in the context of a 2018 proposal for exploratory discussions on market access, which suggested that members exchange views on their current areas of interest, without prejudice to their negotiating positions.
In a similar vein, WTO members discussed, earlier in 2019, a communication on exploratory discussions on market access for tourism and related services. See the details here.
Read about environmental services here.