The virtual workshop, as envisaged by the LDCs, would be to share information and experiences on exporting LDC services and to raise awareness of the preferences notified by WTO members under the LDC Services Waiver. The event would bring together LDC suppliers of services and consumers of LDC services in preference-granting members.
The waiver allows governments that so wish to grant LDCs more favourable treatment regarding services than what is guaranteed in their WTO commitments. Preferential treatment has been notified by 51 WTO members. The waiver was adopted at the 2011 Ministerial Conference. It exempts members from their obligation to grant services and service suppliers from all WTO members the same access to their markets, also known as the “Most-Favoured Nation obligation”.
The workshop was proposed by the WTO's LDCs group, with the objective of supporting the implementation of the preferences notified, thus following up on the mandate from the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference to “operationalize” the waiver. A total of 36 WTO members are classified as LDCs.
The LDCs also provided an account of a virtual seminar they organised on 2 December on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on LDC services trade.
E-commerce Work Programme
Initiatives to support the expansion of digital capabilities of businesses and consumers were presented by several WTO members in line with a recent proposal tabled by 14 members. Initiatives on e-government, support for communications infrastructure and online assistance for small businesses were some of the examples cited.
Several members called for discussing the constraints faced by developing countries in e-commerce, including the so-called digital divide. A couple of delegations stated that the WTO moratorium on e-commerce is a source of revenue loss for developing countries and poses a threat to their digital industrialisation. A number of members noted, on the contrary, that evidence pointed to the far-reaching benefits of the moratorium for businesses and consumers.
At previous Ministerial Conferences, members have agreed not to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions through a so-called “moratorium”. The current extension of the moratorium runs until the 12TH Ministerial Conference scheduled for 2021.
Services trade concerns
The United States raised a new concern regarding new tax benefits that Russia will accord to domestic software and domestic IT companies. The US asked Russia to explain how these measures comply with Russia's WTO obligations.
Also under discussion were issues previously raised in the Council. Japan and the United States reiterated concerns about cybersecurity measures of both China and Viet Nam. China sought further clarifications about Australia's 5G measures. The US repeated its concerns and sought clarifications about two Russian measures concerning the allocation of radio frequency bands for foreign satellite operators and the pre-installation of software.
China reiterated concerns regarding measures by the United States on the video application TikTok and messaging application WeChat and regarding India's measures on investment approval and the use of certain apps. Some of the concerns expressed were echoed by other members.
Compliance with WTO rules, the availability to engage with the members concerned and the need to meet national policy objectives were some of the replies provided by the members whose measures were addressed.
The next meeting of the Council for Trade in Services will take place in the first quarter of 2021.