Foreign Banking: Do Countries’ WTO Commitments Match Actual Practices?

The General Agreement on Trade in Services (known as the GATS) is an important new element in the international framework that affects the regulation of every WTO Member's financial sector. However, except for a limited number of country-specific case studies, no attempt has been made to compare WTO commitments to open the domestic banking sector to foreign banks with actual regulatory practice in a systematic and comprehensive manner on a cross-country basis.

Nor has much attention been devoted to systematically and comprehensively assess the degree to which WTO Members discriminate against foreign bank. This paper draws upon a new and comprehensive dataset consisting of the commitments countries made at the WTO and the regulations actually imposed on foreign banks by those countries. The dataset covers 123 WTO Members for whom there was also information available on their current regulatory regime for banking (based on the responses to a World Bank survey as discussed in Barth, Caprio, and Levine (2006)). On the basis of that data, the authors develop indices measuring the degree of openness to foreign banking based upon both commitments made and actual regulatory practice, with a view to assessing the overall extent to which countries open their borders to foreign banks more than they are legally obliged to do based upon their WTO commitments. The dataset is also used to assess the overall extent to which countries discriminate against foreign banks by regulating them less favorably than domestic banks. Although our results are still quite preliminary, they do show substantial divergences between commitments and practices. Indices of market openness and discrimination reveal wide differences among the 123 countries in the sample. The paper also identifies various factors that help explain the level of commitments that WTO Members have made.

No: ERSD-2006-11


James R. Barth: Auburn University and Milken Institute
Juan A. Marchetti: World Trade Organization
Daniel E. Nolle : Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Wanvimol Sawangngoenyuang: Claremont Graduate University


Manuscript date: October 2006

Key Words

Bank regulation, banking, financial services, financial sector liberalization, foreign bank entry, GATS, trade in services, WTO.

JEL classification numbers

D78, F13, G20, G21, G28


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This is a working paper, and hence it represents research in progress. This paper represents the opinions of the author, and is the product of professional research. It is not meant to represent the position or opinions of the WTO or its Members, nor the official position of any staff members. Any errors are the fault of the authors. Copies of working papers can be requested from the divisional secretariat by writing to: Economic Research and Statistics Division, World Trade Organization, rue de Lausanne 154, CH 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland. Please request papers by number and title.

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