Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements


Uruguay Round and Post-Uruguay Round negotiations in maritime transport services

Ministers agreed at the Marrakesh meeting that negotiations on commitments in maritime transport services should be continued after the WTO Agreement came into force.

from annual report 1996, page 127

Although 32 countries made commitments on maritime services in the Uruguay Round (and five additional countries did so later) some major participants did not do so, and it was agreed that further negotiation should aim to improve commitments in international shipping, auxiliary services and access and use of port facilities, leading to the elimination of restrictions within a fixed time scale. The Ministerial Decision on Negotiations on Maritime Transport Services and the Annex on Negotiations on Maritime Transport Services provided a mandate for these negotiations, with a deadline of 30 June 1996. The Decision established the Negotiating Group on Maritime Transport Services to carry out the negotiations. The Negotiating Group held 16 meeting from its inception in April 1994 and, at the time of suspension of the negotiations, 42 governments (counting the European Community and its member States as one) had elected to participate fully in the negotiations. Another 16 governments were participating in the process as observers.

At the end of June 1995, following an intensive process of information exchange, participants began submitting draft offers of commitments on maritime transport services to serve as the basis for bilateral request/offer negotiations. In all, 24 conditional offers were submitted. However, most of the countries which had submitted offer withdrew them in the light of the absence of an offer by the United States, which had announced that the number and quality of offers submitted was not sufficient to justify an offer on its part. Iceland and Norway nevertheless decided to implement the best offers they had made during the negotiations. The commitments made during the Uruguay Round by Austria and the Dominican Republic were withdrawn at the end of the negotiations.

At its meeting on 28 June 1996, the Negotiating Group agreed to suspend the negotiations, agreeing to a Decision on Maritime Transport Services which was later adopted by the Council for Trade in Services. First, it was decided to suspend negotiations and resume them with the next round of comprehensive services negotiations, mandated by Article XIX of the GATS, to begin no later than the year 2000. Second, the current suspension of Article II of the GATS, i.e. the MFN obligation, was maintained until the end of the resumed negotiations, which averted the need for many countries to list MFN exemptions at this stage. Third, it was agreed that negotiations would be resumed on the basis of existing or improved offers. Even though the offers have no legal status, nor has it been undertaken to implement them in any way, it is useful to have the political understanding that new negotiations will begin on the basis of existing or improved offers rather than from scratch. Finally, it was agreed that, until the end of the resumed negotiations, countries would not take any measures affecting maritime trade to improve their negotiating position except in response to measures taken by other countries. This “peace clause” is intended to help prevent the introduction of new restrictions on trade in this sector.