Efforts to liberalize trade in services are gaining momentum as the European Union will chair the 6th round of negotiations for the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) which begin today (17 February) in Geneva.
TiSA negotiations aim at opening up markets in services among a diverse group of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) members who are willing to push ahead with liberalisation faster than the general membership of the World Trade Organization. The result will be a plurilateral agreement among a 'coalition of the willing' to open up markets on services ranging from financial services, e-commerce to maritime transport. Participating countries range from the Australia to Paraguay and from Liechtenstein to the US. Of the 51 WTO members round the table, 28 are member states, but the EU is counted as a single participant.
Hosting and chairing the week-long gathering, the EU is keen to ensure that the TiSA is carefully crafted to make it compatible with the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Ensuring the agreement is GATS compatible will not only make it open to other WTO members who wish to join later, but also make it easier to integrate it into the WTO.
Since the talks were launched in March last year, 20 of the participants have tabled offers. Paraguay, Chile, and Pakistan have yet to reveal their hand.
"I'm glad to see we have momentum towards getting a broad-based trade in services agreement. This is excellent news for an ever more important sector of the European economy," said Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.
With all but three of the 23 participants having now made their opening bids listing which of their services markets they are prepared to open up and to what degree, there is a feeling of optimism that the talks are on track.
Although the negotiations do not fall under the remit of the WTO, this week's talks have been deliberately scheduled to be back-to-back with regular meetings of the WTO and of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The aim is to increase synergies with and ensure participation of capital-based officials.
This negotiation round will last eight days, with the first three days devoted to discussing the 20 initial offers. During the following five days, negotiators will discuss regulations in specific services sectors. The exchange of offers is seen as a turning point in the efforts to forge an agreement. With members agreeing on the basic text of the agreement provisions and almost all offers on the table, the negotiations are clearly on track.
Six topics have been chosen for detailed discussion: financial services; telecommunication and e-commerce; domestic regulation and transparency; professional services, maritime transport and so-called mode 4, the supply of services by foreign persons. These topics have been chosen because their (co-)sponsors have tabled consolidated texts containing all proposals and comments, paving the way for true draft negotiating texts. Working groups will run in parallel to try to get maximum progress. Participants will exchange views on road transport, competitive delivery services and air transport.
The TiSA negotiations cover all services sectors, including information and communication technology (ICT) services, logistics and transport, financial services and services for businesses. The EU – like the other participants – wants the negotiations to go beyond simply further opening up markets for services. The aim is also to develop new rules on trade in services, such as those applying to government procurement of services, licensing procedures or access to communication networks.
Together, the 51 WTO members (Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, the EU, Hong Kong China, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States) participating in the negotiations represent more than two thirds of world trade in services. For the EU, trade in services is of strategic importance, the sector accounting for some three-quarters of EU gross domestic product (GDP) and of EU jobs. Within the EU, cross-border trade in services accounts for around 30% of EU trade, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Services (to be covered by the scope of the future agreement) represents around 70% of the EU's FDI flows and around 60% of our FDI stock.
IP/13/118: European Commission proposes to open plurilateral trade negotiations on services, 15 February 2013
MEMO/13/107: Memo - Negotiations for a Plurilateral Agreement on Trade in services
Trade in Services