In the Services Council, members also addressed the LDC Services Waiver, which seeks to boost the participation of least-developed countries (LDCs) in services trade, and the E-commerce Work Programme. Also under consideration were various concerns voiced by members about measures affecting trade in services. Members also heard from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) initiatives to establish international standards for measuring the economic, environmental and social aspects of tourism.
Implementing MC12 mandates
Members agreed to organize information-sharing sessions as part of the work on the WTO response to pandemics — a proposition that emerged from the consultations held by the chair of the Services Council, Ambassador Kemvichet Long of Cambodia. The discussions will address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on several services sectors, the trade-facilitative measures introduced by members, and the impact of the pandemic on LDCs. The sectors for consideration will be information and communications technology and digitally delivered services, transport and logistics services, health services, and tourism services.
Also on the response to pandemics, members discussed two submissions from India suggesting that dedicated discussions be held on the role of telemedicine services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and on the possibility of building a pool of health professionals to respond effectively to pandemics.
While several members welcomed the idea of discussing the topics raised by India, others argued that the link to trade was not always evident and that health services could be addressed in the information-sharing sessions that the Council agreed to.
On WTO reform, members agreed to having the WTO Secretariat detail how the Council for Trade in Services and one of its subsidiary bodies function, and commended the recent improvements in the functioning of the Council.
E-commerce Work Programme
Members continued discussing the interactions between the work in the Services Council and in the General Council on electronic commerce. They also indicated their readiness to continue exchanges on experiences and developments in the digital sphere. India presented its Digital Public Infrastructure and consumer protection framework.
Ministers decided at MC12 to extend the moratorium on e-commerce — under which members agreed to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions — and to reinvigorate the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, including its development dimension.
Operationalizing the LDC Services Waiver
Members agreed to an information session to be organized by the WTO Secretariat on how LDC services export data might be improved. Referring to an internal note circulated to the membership in February, the Secretariat noted that the participation of LDCs in services trade remains low — at 0.5 per cent in 2021 — down from 0.7 per cent in 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Secretariat note suggests putting in place a data improvement project based on the development of surveys, which could be rolled out in three to five years. Scaling up detailed data collection will help to better identify whether trade takes place through the preferences notified by WTO members.
A total of 51 members have notified preferences for LDC services and service suppliers under the Services Waiver. The waiver was formalized by a decision adopted at the 2011 Ministerial Conference.
Malawi, on behalf of the WTO LDC Group, indicated that the group is working on a written proposal on how to operationalise the MC12 Outcome Document on the waiver.
A total of 36 WTO members are classified as LDCs. More information on the waiver can be found here.
Measuring the sustainability of tourism
The UNWTO presented its work on setting international standards for measuring the economic, environmental and social aspects of tourism. This follows a request from Costa Rica, which stressed that the WTO can contribute to addressing environmental protection and climate change. The objective of establishing a common statistical framework for measuring the sustainability of tourism is to benchmark performance, make sustainability more comparable, and support actions on the ground that contribute to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Services trade concerns
Members discussed four specific trade concerns previously addressed in the Council involving cybersecurity measures and 5G-related measures, among other services-related topics.
Japan and the United States, echoed by Australia, Canada and the European Union, reiterated concerns about the cybersecurity measures of China and Viet Nam. China recalled its concerns about Australia's 5G measures and repeated concerns with certain measures by the United States. China also reiterated its concerns regarding India's measures in relation to mobile applications.
WTO members elected Tsvetelina Georgieva Dimitrova, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the WTO, as the new chair of the Council for Trade in Services.
Implementing commitments under the GATS
At the Committee on Specific Commitments, members agreed to hear from the World Bank, the International Transport Forum of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific on work related to road transport at its next meeting. This came with members' discussion of a proposal submitted by Türkiye a year ago on implementing members' specific commitments related to cross-border supply of road transport, particularly with regards to quotas for foreign trucks.
Trade in financial services
At the Committee on Trade in Financial Services, members reached consensus on organizing a seminar the week of 12 June. Entitled "Financial Services: Trade, Sustainability and Accessibility", the event will look at women's empowerment and financial inclusion, as well as at the role technology can play to increase access to financial services by marginalized groups. National regulators, representatives from international organizations, as well as the banking and insurance sector and academics will be among the panellists. A detailed programme with the list of speakers will be available shortly. An outline of the agenda is available here.
Conflict in Ukraine
Many members took the floor to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent actions. The Russian delegate responded by saying that the WTO was not the proper venue for a discussion of this nature.
The role of trade in services in supporting health systems
Separately, the role of services trade in increasing access to medical goods and to medical and health-related services was the focus of a webinar organized by the WTO's Trade in Services and Investment Division on 8 March as part of the “Simply Services” series.
Underscoring the growing importance of the health sector over recent years, the event discussed the findings of a report by the World Bank and the WTO entitled: “Trade Therapy: Deepening Cooperation to Strengthen Pandemic Defenses”, focusing on how trade in services can be leveraged to support health systems. In particular, the role of transport, logistics, distribution and financial services in keeping medical global value chains flowing was highlighted.
The “Simply Services” speaker series is an informal platform for sharing the latest information on trends in services trade. It was launched for the first time 5 years ago.
More information on the series is available here.
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