International trade in services agreements

International Trade in Services Agreements

Everything you wanted to know about the General Agreement on Trade in Services...

1. What is the main purpose of the GATS?

The creation of the GATS was one of the landmark achievements of the Uruguay Round, whose results entered into force in January 1995. The GATS was inspired by essentially the same objectives as its counterpart in merchandise trade, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT): creating a credible and reliable system of international trade rules; ensuring fair and equitable treatment of all participants (principle of non-discrimination); stimulating economic activity through guaranteed policy bindings; and promoting trade and development through progressive liberalization.

While services currently account for over 60 percent of global production and employment, they represent no more than 20 per cent of total trade (BOP basis). This — seemingly modest — share should not be underestimated, however. Many services, which have long been considered genuine domestic activities, have increasingly become internationally mobile. This trend is likely to continue, owing to the introduction of new transmission technologies (e.g. electronic banking, tele-health or tele-education services), the opening up in many countries of long-entrenched monopolies (e.g. voice telephony and postal services), and regulatory reforms in hitherto tightly regulated sectors such as transport. Combined with changing consumer preferences, such technical and regulatory innovations have enhanced the “tradability” of services and, thus, created a need for multilateral disciplines.

2. Which countries participate?

All WTO Members, some 140 economies at present, are at the same time Members of the GATS and, to varying degrees, have assumed commitments in individual service sectors.

3. What services are covered?

The GATS applies in principle to all service sectors, with two exceptions.
Article I(3) of the GATS excludes “services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority”. These are services that are supplied neither on a commercial basis nor in competition with other suppliers. Cases in point are social security schemes and any other public service, such as health or education, that is provided at non-market conditions.
Further, the Annex on Air Transport Services exempts from coverage measures affecting air traffic rights and services directly related to the exercise of such rights.

4. Is it true that the GATS not only applies to cross-border flows of services, but additional modes of supply?

The GATS distinguishes between four modes of supplying services: cross-border trade, consumption abroad, commercial presence, and presence of natural persons.
Cross-border supply is defined to cover services flows from the territory of one Member into the territory of another Member (e.g. banking or architectural services transmitted via telecommunications or mail);
Consumption abroad refers to situations where a service consumer (e.g. tourist or patient) moves into another Member's territory to obtain a service;
Commercial presence implies that a service supplier of one Member establishes a territorial presence, including through ownership or lease of premises, in another Member's territory to provide a service (e.g. domestic subsidiaries of foreign insurance companies or hotel chains); and Presence of natural persons consists of persons of one Member entering the territory of another Member to supply a service (e.g. accountants, doctors or teachers). The Annex on Movement of Natural Persons specifies, however, that Members remain free to operate measures regarding citizenship, residence or access to the employment market on a permanent basis.

5. Why was it necessary to introduce, apart from the traditional concept of cross-border trade, three additional modes of supply?

The supply of many services is possible only through the simultaneous physical presence of both producer and consumer. There are thus many instances in which, in order to be commercially meaningful, trade commitments must extend to cross-border movements of the consumer, the establishment of a commercial presence within a market, or the temporary movement of the service provider himself.

6. Does the GATS affect a Member's ability to pursue national policy objectives and priorities?

The GATS expressly recognizes the right of Members to regulate the supply of services in pursuit of their own policy objectives, and does not seek to influence these objectives. Rather, the Agreement establishes a framework of rules to ensure that services regulations are administered in a reasonable, objective and impartial manner and do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade.

7. What are the basic obligations under the GATS?

Obligations contained in the GATS may be categorized into two broad groups: General obligations, which apply directly and automatically to all Members and services sectors, as well as commitments concerning market access and national treatment in specifically designated sectors. Such commitments are laid down in individual country schedules whose scope may vary widely between Members. The relevant terms and concepts are similar, but not necessarily identical to those used in the GATT; for example, national treatment is a general obligation in goods trade and not negotiable as under the GATS.

 Mauritius has been participating in trade in services negotiations with the EU under the EPA, as well as at SADC and COMESA levels. The following table depicts the sectors being in which commitments have been taken within these three trading blocs:

SADC Financial, Tourism, Transport, Communication, (Construction and Energy related services have been identified as priority sectors and are under negotiations)
COMESA Financial, Tourism, Transport, Communication, (Business, Construction and related engineering and Energy related services have been identified as priority sectors but negotiations have not yet started)
EPA Business, Communication, Construction and related engineering services, Distribution, Retailing, Educational, Environmental, Financial, Health related and social, Tourism, Marine Transport, Auxiliary Transport services

In view of the fact that Mauritius aims at becoming a services economy (contributing 72% of the GDP) and that not much progress has been achieved in services negotiations at the level of the WTO, Mauritius joined TISA in July 2015 after consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Currently there are 23 members which are party to the agreement, namely Australia; Canada; Chile; Chinese Taipei (Taiwan); Colombia; Costa Rica; the European Union; Hong Kong (China); Iceland; Israel; Japan; Liechtenstein; Mauritius; New Zealand; Norway; Mexico; Pakistan; Panama; Peru; South Korea; Switzerland; Turkey; and the United States.

TISA members represent an enormous services market with nearly 1.6 billion people and a combined GDP of more than $50 trillion in 2013, nearly two-thirds of the world’s economy. In 2013, these countries exported more than $3.6 trillion in services. The participants have agreed to welcome other WTO members that wish to join the negotiations and that share the objectives of the group. A final agreement would also be open for accession to other WTO members. Moreover the intention of the participating member states is to conclude the talks and eventually multilateralise it within the WTO.