MC12 briefing note
Ranging from architecture to health, voice-mail telecommunications and legal consulting, services are the most dynamic component of both developed and developing economies and their importance will continue to grow in the coming decades. However, trade in services remains subject to numerous discriminatory barriers as well as procedural and administrative bottlenecks that can act as impediments, particularly for small and medium-sized service exporters worldwide.
WTO members have been discussing trade in services in the context of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a Uruguay Round agreement that spells out the rules for services trade and which mandated members to negotiate further opening of services markets in a progressive manner.
Over 20 members have also provided trade preferences for least-developed countries (LDCs) under a “LDC Services Waiver” agreed at the 8th Ministerial Conference in 2011, with the objective of deepening LDCs' integration into the world trading system.
Services trade was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as highlighted by a WTO Secretariat information note. While services trade has increased recently, it remains globally below pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, the WTO Secretariat indicated that global services trade remained sluggish in the first quarter of 2021, falling 9 per cent year-on-year after posting a 21 per cent decline for the full year of 2020.
Discussions ahead of MC12
Over recent months, WTO members have been discussing the content of a Ministerial Declaration to highlight the importance of trade in services – particularly in the context of the pandemic — and to recall the negotiating agenda contained in the GATS.
Discussions take place in the “Special Session” of the Council for Trade in Services chaired by Ambassador Zhanar Aitzhanova of Kazakhstan. In November 2021, the chair nominated Ambassador Pimchanok Pitfield of Thailand to facilitate the process given Kazakhstan's involvement as co-host of the WTO's 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).
MC12 outcome document
In the MC12 outcome document, ministers underlined the essential role that services play in job creation and in the global economy, and the need to increase the participation of developing countries and LDCs in global services trade. The document also underscores the importance of supporting the recovery of services most impacted by the pandemic, taking into account the challenges and opportunities encountered by members. Ministers also instructed the Council for Trade in Services to further review and promote the operationalization of the LDC Services Waiver by analysing data on LDC services exports, reviewing information on LDC services suppliers and consumers of LDC services in preference granting members, and by identifying best practices on how to use the preferences.
Other multilateral initiatives
Over the past two years, WTO members have also engaged in informal discussions in the Council's special session based on submissions by members on the following sectors:
- environmental services
- logistics services
- financial services
- tourism and related services
- agriculture-related services.
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