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A group of 63 WTO members(1) are currently engaged in negotiations on disciplines which seek to ensure that domestic regulation measures relating to qualification requirements and procedures, technical standards and licensing requirements do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade in services. With the disciplines, participants seek to promote clear, predictable and transparent procedures for trade in services, while guaranteeing flexibilities to help governments implement the measures domestically and regulate according to their national policy objectives.

The coordinator of the negotiations, Jaime Coghi Arias of Costa Rica, issued a revised “close-to-final” version of the negotiating text in December 2020. He welcomed the participants' continued “positive engagement and commitment” as they remain committed to achieving an outcome by the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), to take place from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva.

Participants reiterated that a broader participation in the talks would help widen the benefits of the disciplines.

Brazil told participants that its 2019 Economic Freedom Act confirms the country's commitment to providing businesses with more transparency and certainty. It promotes the free exercise of economic activities through a rational and efficient development of regulations. In Brazil, when enacting or modifying a law or regulation, competent authorities carry out public consultations with interested stakeholders following a regulatory impact assessment analysis. Certain moderate and high-risk economic activities may be authorized following a risk assessment procedure.

China outlined how its domestic requirements to submit and process applications, to publish information, and to apply authorization fees sometimes go beyond the draft transparency disciplines on services domestic regulation. The Chinese legislation seeks to improve administrative efficiency and facilitate the processing of applications. Applications for administrative authorization may be submitted electronically, and all requirements and procedures are published on relevant websites to ensure transparency.

Costa Rica noted that the development of its regulatory measures is carried out by authorities in an independent, impartial and non-discriminatory manner, as laid out in its Constitution and General Law of Public Administration. All public officials' decisions are subject to review at the administrative or judiciary level. The institutional framework also guarantees that all measures undertaken by the public administration are rational, reasonable and proportional.

The UK noted the conformity of its domestic regulatory system with the negotiated disciplines. The UK government is committed to increasing access to electronic administrative procedures and to consolidating information relevant for service suppliers (including on fees, fixed timeframes, tacit authorization and contact points) in a single online portal. The implementation of the UK Provision of Services Regulations also benefits foreign businesses seeking to provide services or to establish themselves in the UK.

In presenting its draft schedule, the UK explained that the streamlined processes under discussion would benefit all WTO members by reducing the costs and uncertainties associated with trading internationally. The UK aims to apply the domestic regulation disciplines to all sectors committed under the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and remains committed to securing an outcome on domestic regulation services by MC12. The delegation expressed support for the inclusion of a clause to promote non-discrimination between men and women as women have generally been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Up to now, a total of 32 indicative schedules have been submitted, representing 58 WTO members.  Canada, Japan and the European Union shared their implementation experiences at a virtual meeting on 10 May. Australia, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and the United States did so at a virtual meeting on 10 April.

Pointing to the importance of outreach to help in raising awareness about the ongoing negotiations on services domestic regulation globally, Canada reported on a webinar co-organized with the Eastern Caribbean States in May. The event showed how reducing regulatory barriers and increasing transparency and predictability in services trade can benefit economies of all sizes. As co-host of the webinar, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States highlighted the importance of domestic regulatory reform in helping to support high quality services in the Caribbean region so that firms can better access global markets.

Reporting on a webinar entitled “Strengthening institutional and regulatory capacities for services trade” hosted by the International Trade Centre in early June, Mr Coghi said that work on services domestic regulation is being carried out in various fora, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development . He noted the role of transparent, clear and predictable services regulations in helping businesses — especially micro, small and medium sized enterprises – reduce regulatory compliance costs.

A factsheet on the state-of-play of the negotiations, their origin and objectives is available here.

Background

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 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development meetings confirmed their commitment to delivering a meaningful outcome by MC12.

Each WTO member's schedule of commitments can be accessed here. The list of all sectors covered by the GATS can be found here.

Next meeting

The next meeting is scheduled for 20 July.

Notes:

  1. Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Belgium; Brazil; Bulgaria; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; El Salvador; Estonia; European Union; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Korea, Republic of; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Montenegro; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Paraguay; Peru; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; and Uruguay. back to text

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