E-commerce Work Programme
Several members shared information on their digital development strategies and on their initiatives in electronic commerce. The need for increasing digital capabilities in developing countries was highlighted, particularly the need to boost participation of women in digital trade. In spite of the 20 per cent increase in internet users between 2019 and 2021 in least-developed countries (LDCs), Chad, on behalf of the WTO LDC Group, recalled that many challenges and digital shortfalls remain to be addressed in these countries.
Members expressed support for continued discussions under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, with some stating that they linked its continuation to the extension of the moratorium on e-commerce at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), which has been scheduled for mid-June. Members have been agreeing at previous Ministerial Conferences to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions.
LDC Services Waiver
Chad, on behalf of the WTO LDC Group, shared LDCs' priorities in terms of services trade, recalling the declaration adopted by LDC trade ministers on 19 October 2021, which cites the LDC Services Waiver. The priorities include a better integration in global value chains, export diversification, infrastructure development, and enhanced access to trade-related capacity building. Chad also explained how certain measures could help operationalize the preferences notified by WTO members with a view to furthering LDCs' participation in world services trade.
Adopted at the 2011 Ministerial Conference, the waiver allows governments that so wish to grant more favourable treatment for LDC services and service suppliers than that given to all other members.
A total of 36 WTO members are classified as LDCs. To date, 51 members have granted preferences in favour of LDCs.
Review of exemptions to WTO non-discrimination principle
Members agreed on the timeline to review exemptions to the non-discrimination principle, knows as the “most-favoured nation treatment principle”, under which WTO members are normally prevented from discriminating against other WTO members. As foreseen by General Agreement on Trade in Services' Annex of Article II Exemptions, the review concerns exemptions granted for a period of over 5 years. The list of members' exemptions can be found here. The purpose of the review is to examine whether the conditions creating the need for the exemptions still prevail and to determine the date of any further review. The latest review took place in 2016. The review will start at the last Council meeting of 2022.
Services trade concerns
Members continued discussing five specific trade concerns previously addressed in the Council, including cybersecurity measures, 5-G-related measures and localization of customer services. Members raise specific trade concerns to find out more about the scope and application of each other's trade in services measures in light of members' obligations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The objective of this exchange is to improve transparency and monitoring of services trade measures and to help mitigate trade frictions. The members whose measures were addressed mentioned, as part of their replies, their compliance with WTO rules (such as the non-discrimination principle), their availability to engage with the members concerned, and the need to meet national policy objectives or to protect national security.
Implementing commitments under the GATS
The certification of Thailand's revised schedule of services commitments was concluded before the Committee on Specific Commitments meeting of 10 March. The improved access commitments are based on Thailand's 2006 Telecommunication Business Act and other relevant laws and regulations.
The certification of Thailand's revised commitments took place in the context of an examination of implementation of GATS commitments by members. Started in 2020, this exercise is carried out on a voluntary basis and based on a proposal from the United States. Under consideration are members' “conditional” commitments, under which the entry into force, implementation or updates of specific commitments depends on national legislative actions or policy reviews. The objective of this exercise is to improve the transparency and legal certainty of members' specific commitments for services trade.
Members also considered a new proposal from Turkey on implementing members' specific commitments related to cross-border supply of road transport, particularly on quotas for foreign trucks. Most delegations said they need time to review the recently submitted document.
Discussing services-led development
Separately, the role of services trade in furthering the development objectives of low and middle-income countries was the focus of a webinar organized by the WTO's Trade in Services and Investment Division on 10 March as part of the “Simply Services” series. The event discussed the findings of a book by the World Bank entitled: At Your Service? : The Promise of Services-Led Development, which looks at the growing importance of services-led development paths in the context of a shrinking share of manufacturing in countries' gross domestic product and employment. The event featured the participation of speakers from the World Bank, the International Growth Centre and the CARICOM Office of Trade Negotiations.
More information on the series is available here.
Many members took the floor to express their strong opposition to the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian delegate responded by saying that the WTO was not the proper venue for a discussion of this nature.