Services such as telecommunications, banking, insurance, construction, distribution and transport help to enhance overall economic performance.

Over the last 20 years or so, the government's role in the supply of many services has changed fundamentally from producer, distributor and financier to regulatory control and enforcement. To reflect these new market realities, the international trading system was adjusted with the entry into force of the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in January 1995.

The GATS defines four ways (“modes”) of delivering or trading a service:

  • Mode 1 is where services are supplied from one country to another (e.g. international phone calls), officially known as "cross-border supply";
  • Mode 2 is where consumers or firms make use of a service in another country (e.g. tourism), officially known as "consumption abroad";
  • Mode 3 is where a company sets up branches abroad (e.g. banks operating in overseas countries), officially known as "commercial presence"; and
  • Mode 4 is where individuals travel abroad to provide services in another country (e.g. fashion models), officially known as "movement of natural persons".


Under the Doha round of negotiations

  • Governments aim to open, improve and clarify the rules on regulations, the poorest countries and flexibilities.
  • A la carte system: Each government has the right to decide which sectors it wants to open to foreign companies and to what extent, including any restrictions on foreign ownership.


Main concern: Does the GATS force governments to privatize and deregulate all services, including public services, to allow foreign competition from transnational corporations?

  • There is no legal obligation on a government to privatize any service, nor does the GATS outlaw government or private monopolies.
  • Even if a government decides to open its domestic public services to foreign suppliers, it retains the right to set limits on foreign involvement, to set qualification requirements, to set standards for consumer health and safety and to introduce new regulations to pursue any other policy objective.


Some key issues in the Doha negotiations

  • Many developed countries are looking for new export opportunities in sectors such as financial services, telecoms, energy services, express delivery and distribution services.
  • Several developing countries are seeking similar opportunities in sectors such as tourism, medical services and professional services, as well as opportunities for their individual service providers under mode 4.
  • In addition, many countries, both developed and developing, are working on clearer disciplines on domestic regulations such as qualification standards for professionals such as accountants, lawyers and healthcare workers.


Negotiating method

Negotiations to improve market access are conducted through a request-offer procedure. Governments send requests to each other indicating what market access opportunities they are seeking; the governments in receipt of such requests reply by submitting their initial offers specifying how and to what extent they are willing to consider opening their domestic market in response to these requests.

This sets in motion a series of bilateral or plurilateral bargaining sessions. Regardless of which country submits a request, the offer from the responding country applies to all countries. At the end of negotiations, the final offers then become legally-binding commitments specifying the conditions under which market access is granted.


Focus of current work

Work is currently proceeding along three parallel tracks:

  • the first is the multilateral text on which the Chairman of the services negotiations is conducting consultations. Such a text aims to provide further guidance in the services negotiations at the time of the establishment of modalities in agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA). The Chairman's consultations are attempting to agree on language for the services element of the breakthrough package comprising the agriculture and NAMA modalities. The Chairman distributed a report of his consultations on 26 May 2008. All members agree that Annex C of the Hong Kong Declaration would remain the basis for continuing and finalizing the services negotiations.
  • LDC modalities rules which will facilitate greater participation in world service trade by the poorest countries.
  • the third is the Signalling Conference which is due to take place during the week of 21 July. Many countries had indicated that, at the time of establishing modalities in the agriculture and NAMA negotiations, they would need a certain level of comfort regarding the market access negotiations on services. A means of providing such comfort would be through exchanging “signals” on market access issues. Such a signalling conference will not define the final outcome of the services negotiations, but will give a credible signal that the negotiations are moving forward.

The signalling conference will be chaired by Mr Pascal Lamy, who will present the outcome of the conference in the form of an oral report to the Trade Negotiations Committee which is due to take place towards the end of the week of 21 July.

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• January 2000: Negotiations begin

• March 2001: Guidelines and the Procedures for the Negotiations on Trade in Services are adopted

• November 2001: Doha Development Agenda is adopted

• March 2003: Deadline for receiving "initial offers"

• July 2004: "July Package" establishes deadline of May 2005 for submission of revised offers

• December 2005: Hong Kong Ministerial Conference reaffirms key principles of services negotiations

• July 2006: Doha negotiations suspended

• February 2007: Resumption of negotiations

• May 2008: Report on Doha negotiations issued