JOINT STATEMENT ON SERVICES DOMESTIC REGULATION
Participants are developing disciplines concerning licensing and qualification requirements and procedures as well as technical standards for suppliers of services. A “far advanced” negotiating text capturing the progress made in 2020 was circulated by the chair, Jaime Coghi Arias of Costa Rica, in December 2020.
The chair said the talks are on track to be finalized at the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) which members recently agreed would take place the week of 29 November 2021 in Geneva. Clarity about the date for MC12 “will help us move forward, starting with the remaining outstanding issues … and facilitate our planning with regard to our shared objective of concluding the negotiations by MC12”, he said.
The negotiating text contains flexibilities to help governments implement the measures domestically while remaining free to pursue their national policy objectives. The group of participants comprises 63 WTO members (1) — both developing and developed countries — accounting for over 70 per cent of world services trade.
RCEP negotiators from Australia and Thailand said that the draft disciplines negotiated at the WTO have strong similarities with those contained in the RCEP, which was signed by 15 economies in November 2020 and embraces approximately USD 2.4 billion worth of services trade. The reach of the RCEP disciplines on domestic regulation are broader, they explained, because the RCEP signatories have covered more sectors under the agreement than in their commitments at the WTO under the General Agreement on Trade in Services.
Australia and Thailand reported additional similarities with domestic regulation issues in other free trade agreements (FTAs), such as those between Singapore and the European Union, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Indonesia and Australia. Other participants in the domestic regulation talks noted the disciplines' strong similarities with the FTA between the Republic of Korea and ASEAN, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the Agreement for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership between the United Kingdom and Japan, and the non-binding Principles for Domestic Regulation of the Services Sector developed by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
Participants added that, given that more and more countries at different levels of development are adopting comparable domestic regulation disciplines in regional trade agreements, more WTO members should be encouraged to join the talks. The outcome secured within the WTO framework would be of great benefit for services suppliers across the world, they stressed. They also underlined the relevance of the disciplines in promoting economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 57 participants have submitted draft schedules indicating how the proposed disciplines would be incorporated in their WTO commitments. Kazakhstan, which will be chairing MC12, is the latest participant to have submitted its draft schedule, in January 2021.
Ministers from 59 WTO members launched negotiations at the 11th Ministerial Conference held in December 2017 in Buenos Aires. In May 2019, ministers meeting on the side lines of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development meetings confirmed their commitment to deliver a meaningful outcome by the 12th Ministerial Conference . The meetings are member-driven, transparent and open to all WTO members.
The next meetings are scheduled for 14 April, 10 May, 10 June, and 15 July.