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Services rules in regional trade agreements
How diverse and how creative as compared to the GATS multilateral rules?

The study tries first to assess the extent of similarities and divergences among services rules in regional trade agreements as compared to the GATS.

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To do so, it uses a typology identifying variations in 48 key provisions structured under seven themes commonly found in RTAs and using the GATS as a benchmark.  The analysis identifies two main “families” of agreements (GATS-inspired and NAFTA-inspired) and a residual category.  The paper briefly explores the historical development that led to these families as well as their geographical spread both on an agreement by agreement basis and a country by country basis.

The paper then analyses by theme the variations found in the RTAs among services rules including their novelty as compared to the GATS.  Given the lack of available information on the implementation of the agreements the paper tries to assess whenever possible the magnitude of the discrepancies and their practical impacts.

While subject to some qualifications, the results of the study are relatively straight forward: there is no “spaghetti bowl” in services rules, but just two “families” and one residual category.  The details reveal that the degree of divergence between those two families does not overall seem insurmountable.  This assessment concords with  other studies (e.g. Marchetti, Roy) that have equated them in terms of national treatment and market access and have compared directly commitments undertaken under the three families of agreements.  One may even note a certain tendency to a convergence towards the GATS model (e.g. the addition of market access clause in the second generation of NAFTA-like agreements or the use of GATS-type architecture by EU for agreements else than pre-adhesion ones).

In terms of “novelty” the results prove somewhat disappointing except in certain areas like mode 4 and transparency.  Other issues in which, in view of the intensity of WTO DDA debates, one would have expected a lot of bilateral creativity, such as domestic regulation, safeguards and recognition provisions show themselves to be surprisingly embryonic. 

Finally anecdotal evidence, gathered for instance during the drafting by the WTO Secretariat of Trade Policies Reviews and factual presentations on RTAs suggest that in numerous instances, provisions relating to future negotiations or even regular meetings are not implemented thereby casting doubt on the effective impact of RTA provisions (including diverging ones) on trade realities.

No: ERSD-2012-19


Pierre Latrille and Juneyoung Lee, WTO

Manuscript date: October 2012

Key Words:

Regional Trade Agreements, services, GATS, WTO.

JEL classification numbers:

F13, F14, F15, F53

Disclaimer  back to top

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 author. 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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