Sixty-five of the 164 World Trade Organization (WTO) members participating in the negotiations on domestic regulation of services have entered into text-based discipline negotiations that aim to ensure that, among other things, domestic regulatory procedures for trade in services “does not unnecessarily restrict trade.” This coincided with Singapore’s announcement of its participation in the talks and followed the recent announcement of participation by the United States.
The negotiated text entitled “Reference Document on Domestic Regulation of Services” covers “licensing requirements and procedures, qualification requirements and procedures, and technical standards affecting trade in services”.
Participating WTO members also agreed to an “optional section with a set of disciplines on financial services”. Participating developing countries are subject to the disciplines but may be granted “a maximum transition period of seven years” if they “need more time to implement individual disciplines for specific service sectors”.
Participating members presented draft schedules of services reflecting “how each government intends to incorporate the disciplines into its schedules of specific WTO commitments on services”. At a meeting on September 27, 2021 that saw the conclusion of the text-based discussions, Jaime Coghi Arias of Costa Rica, coordinator of the negotiations, invited participants to present updated draft lists by October 29 for Help finalize negotiations by the Twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12), which will take place from November 30 to December 3 in Geneva, Switzerland.
A novelty in the context of the WTO is that the negotiated text contains a provision on non-discrimination between men and women in the authorization procedures of service suppliers.
With 65 participants, including all EU Member States, this initiative excludes the majority of WTO members. Reasons for not joining could include long-standing tensions in the broader Working Party on Domestic Regulation discussions that date back to the early days of the WTO, as well as fears that new WTO disciplines on domestic regulation. domestic regulation in services can interact with members on existing commitments under international investment agreements and issues regarding the potential of new disciplines to restrict the policy space of countries at the national level.
The process of domestic regulation of services is one of a number of “Joint Statement Initiatives” (JSI) launched at WTO MC11 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December 2017, by groups of members of the WTO, along with other initiatives covering topics such as Facilitation of Investment for Development (DFI), e-commerce and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). A joint declaration on trade and women’s economic empowerment was also launched on this occasion. The SDG Knowledge Hub has reported on some of the history of national regulation of JSI services here.
Some WTO members, including India and South Africa, have questioned the legal status of JSIs and expressed concern about how they will be integrated into the WTO framework.
As a next step, Coghi will consult with participants on a ministerial document noting the conclusion of the talks, agreed text and participants’ final lists of commitments. The next meeting will be on October 11.
On September 29, during the WTO Public Forum, the European Services Forum and the Australian Services Roundtable hosted a session entitled “WTO Joint Initiative on Domestic Regulation of Services: A Deliverable at MC12 to strengthen the multilateral trading system ”. Participants in the event discussed the state of play of discussions on domestic regulation of services, shared views from business and industry experts on the practical value of disciplines to facilitate and expand their operations, and heard views from participating WTO members on how they see the disciplines improving their domestic business environment and increasing their trade competitiveness. [WTO Press Release]
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WTO members participating in the talks are: Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Belgium; Brazil; Bulgaria; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; the Czech Republic; Denmark; El Salvador; Estonia; the EU; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; the Republic of Korea; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova; Montenegro; the Netherlands; New Zealand; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Paraguay; Peru; Poland; Portugal; Romania; The Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia; Singapore; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Separate customs territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; Great Britain; and Uruguayan.