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now adopted, in addition to transparency requirements and other general provisions,
contain provisions on the administration of licensing requirements, qualification
requirements and procedures, and technical standard for the accountancy profession. A key
provision is the general requirement that measures taken for these purposes should not be
more trade-restrictive than is necessary to fulfil a legitimate objective. Examples of
legitimate objectives specified in the Disciplines are the protection of consumers
(including all users of accounting services and the public generally), ensuring the
quality of the service, ensuring professional competence, and ensuring the integrity of
the profession. The disciplines relate to measures taken by governments and to those taken
by non-governmental authorities exercising delegated powers: in many countries the
accountancy profession is regulated by professional associations operating under delegated
The disciplines will not have
immediate legal effect. WTO Members, as stated in today's Decision on Disciplines
Relating to the Accountancy Sector, will continue their work on
domestic regulation in the context of the Working Party on Professional Services (WPPS),
aiming to develop general disciplines for professional services while retaining the
possibility to develop additional sectoral disciplines. Before the end of the forthcoming
round of services negotiations, which commence in January 2000, all the disciplines
developed by the WPPS are to be integrated into the GATS and will then become legally
binding. Today's decision by the Council includes a standstill provision,
effective immediately, under which all WTO Members, including those without GATS
commitments in the accountancy sector, agree, to the fullest extent consistent with their
existing legislation, not to take measures which would be inconsistent with the
Notes to Editor
disciplines (attached) were created in accordance with the mandate of Article VI:4 of the
General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which states that the Council for Trade in
Services shall develop "any necessary disciplines" to ensure that measures
relating to qualification requirements and procedures, technical standards and licensing
requirements "do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade in services".
is generally defined in the WTO context to include accounting, auditing and bookkeeping
services. Members, subject to negotiations with trading partners, have the right to
specify commitments in all or any part of these services within their GATS schedules.
Disciplines apply only to measures not subject to scheduling under GATS Articles XVI and
XVII. The excluded measures, which restrict access to the domestic market or limit the
application of national treatment to foreign suppliers, are addressed in the GATS through
the negotiation and scheduling of specific commitments.
Disciplines on domestic regulation in the accountancy sector
Having regard to the
Ministerial Decision on Professional Services, Members have agreed to the following
disciplines elaborating upon the provisions of the GATS relating to domestic regulation of
the sector. The purpose of these disciplines is to facilitate trade in accountancy
services by ensuring that domestic regulations affecting trade in accountancy services
meet the requirements of Article VI:4 of the GATS. The disciplines therefore do not
address measures subject to scheduling under Articles XVI and XVII of the GATS, which
restrict access to the domestic market or limit the application of national treatment to
foreign suppliers. Such measures are addressed in the GATS through the negotiation and
scheduling of specific commitments.
Members shall ensure that
measures not subject to scheduling under Articles XVI or XVII of the GATS, relating to
licensing requirements and procedures, technical standards and qualification requirements
and procedures are not prepared, adopted or applied with a view to or with the effect of
creating unnecessary barriers to trade in accountancy services. For this purpose, Members
shall ensure that such measures are not more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfil a
legitimate objective. Legitimate objectives are, inter alia, the protection of
consumers (which includes all users of accounting services and the public generally), the
quality of the service, professional competence, and the integrity of the profession.
Members shall make publicly
available, including through the enquiry and contact points established under Articles III
and IV of the GATS, the names and addresses of competent authorities (i.e. governmental or
non-governmental entities responsible for the licensing of professionals or firms, or
shall make publicly available, or shall ensure that their competent authorities make
publicly available, including through the enquiry and contact points:
where applicable, information
describing the activities and professional titles which are regulated or which must comply
with specific technical standards;
and procedures to obtain, renew or retain any licences or professional qualifications and
the competent authorities' monitoring arrangements for ensuring compliance;
on technical standards; and
request, confirmation that a particular professional or firm is licensed to practise
within their jurisdiction.
shall inform another Member, upon request, of the rationale behind domestic regulatory
measures in the accountancy sector, in relation to legitimate objectives as referred to in
introducing measures which significantly affect trade in accountancy services, Members
shall endeavour to provide opportunity for comment, and give consideration to such
comments, before adoption.
of procedures for the review of administrative decisions, as provided for by
Article VI:2 of the GATS, shall be made public, including the prescribed time-limits,
if any, for requesting such a review.
Licensing requirements (i.e.
the substantive requirements, other than qualification requirements, to be satisfied in
order to obtain or renew an authorization to practice) shall be pre-established, publicly
available and objective.
residency requirements not subject to scheduling under Article XVII of the GATS exist,
Members shall consider whether less trade restrictive means could be employed to achieve
the purposes for which these requirements were set, taking into account costs and local
membership of a professional organisation is required, in order to fulfil a legitimate
objective in accordance with paragraph 2, Members shall ensure that the terms for
membership are reasonable, and do not include conditions or pre-conditions unrelated to
the fulfilment of such an objective. Where membership of a professional organization is
required as a prior condition for application for a licence (i.e. an authorization to
practice), the period of membership imposed before the application may be submitted shall
be kept to a minimum.
shall ensure that the use of firm names is not restricted, save in fulfilment of a
shall ensure that requirements regarding professional indemnity insurance for foreign
applicants take into account any existing insurance coverage, in so far as it covers
activities in its territory or the relevant jurisdiction in its territory and is
consistent with the legislation of the host Member.
charged by the competent authorities shall reflect the administrative costs involved, and
shall not represent an impediment in themselves to practising the relevant activity. This
shall not preclude the recovery of any additional costs of verification of information,
processing and examinations. A concessional fee for applicants from developing countries
may be considered.
Licensing procedures (i.e. the
procedures to be followed for the submission and processing of an application for an
authorization to practise) shall be pre-established, publicly available and objective, and
shall not in themselves constitute a restriction on the supply of the service.
procedures and the related documentation shall be not more burdensome than necessary to
ensure that applicants fulfil qualification and licensing requirements. For example,
competent authorities shall not require more documents than are strictly necessary for the
purpose of licensing, and shall not impose unreasonable requirements regarding the format
of documentation. Where minor errors are made in the completion of applications,
applicants shall be given the opportunity to correct them. The establishment of the
authenticity of documents shall be sought through the least burdensome procedure and,
wherever possible, authenticated copies should be accepted in place of original documents.
shall ensure that the receipt of an application is acknowledged promptly by the competent
authority, and that applicants are informed without undue delay in cases where the
application is incomplete. The competent authority shall inform the applicant of the
decision concerning the completed application within a reasonable time after receipt, in
principle within six months, separate from any periods in respect of qualification
procedures referred to below.
request, an unsuccessful applicant shall be informed of the reasons for rejection of the
application. An applicant shall be permitted, within reasonable limits, to resubmit
applications for licensing.
licence, once granted, shall enter into effect immediately, in accordance with the terms
and conditions specified therein.
A Member shall ensure that its
competent authorities take account of qualifications acquired in the territory of another
Member, on the basis of equivalency of education, experience and/or examination
scope of examinations and of any other qualification requirements shall be limited to
subjects relevant to the activities for which authorization is sought. Qualification
requirements may include education, examinations, practical training, experience and
note the role which mutual recognition agreements can play in facilitating the process of
verification of qualifications and/or in establishing equivalency of education.
. QUALIFICATION PROCEDURES
Verification of an applicant's
qualifications acquired in the territory of another Member shall take place within a
reasonable time-frame, in principle within six months and, where applicants'
qualifications fall short of requirements, shall result in a decision which identifies
additional qualifications, if any, to be acquired by the applicant.
shall be scheduled at reasonably frequent intervals, in principle at least once a year,
and shall be open for all eligible applicants, including foreign and foreign-qualified
applicants. Applicants shall be allowed a reasonable period for the submission of
applications. Fees charged by the competent authorities shall reflect the administrative
costs involved, and shall not represent an impediment in themselves to practising the
relevant activity. This shall not preclude the recovery of any additional costs of
verification of information, processing and examinations. A concessional fee for
applicants from developing countries may be considered.
requirements not subject to scheduling under Article XVII of the GATS shall not be
required for sitting examinations.
Members shall ensure that
measures relating to technical standards are prepared, adopted and applied only to fulfil
determining whether a measure is in conformity with the obligations under
paragraph 2, account shall be taken of internationally recognized standards of
relevant international organizations(1) applied by that Member.
The term relevant international organizations refers to international bodies
whose membership is open to the relevant bodies of at least all Members of the