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How to Design Trade Agreements in Services: Top Down or Bottom Up?

This paper deals with claims, recently raised in various circles, that structural faults in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) have prevented WTO Members from advancing services liberalization under the Agreement.

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The GATS is generally associated in this context with a bottom-up (positive-list) scheduling approach where the sectors on which trade commitments are undertaken are selected individually. This is claimed to be less efficient, in terms of liberalization effects, than alternative approaches under which everything is considered to be fully committed unless specifically excluded (top-down or negative listing). However, a closer look at services negotiations conducted in various settings, including the Doha-Round process, WTO accession cases and different types of regional trade agreements, suggests that such structural issues have limited, if any, impact on the results achieved. What ultimately matters are not negotiating or scheduling techniques, but the political impetus that the governments concerned are ready to generate.


No: ERSD-2013-08


Rudolf Adlung and Hamid Mamdouh, World Trade Organization

Manuscript date: June 2013

Key Words:

GATS, trade in services, liberalization commitments

JEL classification numbers:

F13, 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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