Audiovisual services

Audiovisual services is a dynamic sector that has evolved significantly in recent years thanks to technological developments and their impact on trade.

It is now much easier to transmit large amounts of content across borders and to distribute content via a variety of platforms and devices, giving consumers greater control over what they want to watch or listen to, and how.

The sector is important for the pursuit of governments' economic and other objectives.  A number of governments have introduced policies to support domestic production of audiovisual services or to ensure diversity, to protect intellectual property rights, to regulate advertising practices, or to proscribe illicit content.

Audiovisual services include motion picture production and distribution services, motion picture projection services, radio and television services, radio and television transmission services, and sound recording.

Current market access commitments and most-favoured-nation (MFN) exemptions

Audiovisual services is one of the sectors where the number of WTO members with specific commitments is among the lowest. Only 18 WTO members undertook commitments following the conclusion of the Uruguay Round, with some additional members doing so as part of their process of accession to the WTO. Countries with significant audiovisual markets that have undertaken commitments in the sector include China, India, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Mexico and the United States.

Commitments tend to be more frequent in movie-related services than in TV and radio-related services. The sector also has a high number of exemptions to the obligation of MFN treatment. These relate, for example, to film co-productions.

Treatment of the sector in negotiations

Audiovisual services were included in the services negotiations that began in 2000. Three negotiating proposals on the sector were submitted (by the United States, Switzerland and Brazil) in the first years of negotiations. Following the exchange of bilateral requests for market access, offers of improved commitments were exchanged among members. 

In the lead-up to the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in 2005, a joint statement on audiovisual services (TN/S/W/49) was circulated by Hong Kong, China; Japan; Mexico; Chinese Taipei; and the United States.  The joint statement underscored the economic importance of the sector and called for further improvements in members' schedules of commitments.

Following the Conference, the sector, like a number of other sectors, was the focus of a plurilateral request, whereby a group of members communicated to another group of about 30 members the types of improvements in commitments they were seeking in the negotiations. The plurilateral request focused on services related to motion pictures and sound recording. 

In particular, the request sought commitments that bound the existing level of openness in mode 1 (services supplied from one country to another) and mode 2 (consumers moving abroad to consume services) and commitments on mode 3 (setting up subsidiaries to provide services in another country) without certain types of limitations, wherever possible, including foreign equity restrictions and content quotas.  The request also sought the removal or reduction of MFN exemptions.

Information on sectoral and modal negotiating objectives expressed by members is contained in reports from the Chair issued in 2005 (TN/S/20 and TN/S/23).  For an assessment of the plurilateral negotiations in different sectors and areas, consult the Report by the Chair of the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services to the Trade Negotiations Committee in 2011 (TN/S/36). 

Additional information

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  • Background paper on audiovisual services (Document code MTN.GNS/AUD/* or S/* and keyword “audiovisual”)  > search   > help
  • Negotiating proposals: Audiovisual and related services (Document code S/CSS/W/* or TN/S/W/* and Title “Audiovisual”)   > search

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