Participants in talks on WTO services domestic regulation share implementation experiences

At a virtual meeting held on April 14, 2021, WTO members participating in the negotiations on services domestic regulation shared how they have implemented disciplines at the national level. The chair of the negotiations, Jaime Coghi of Costa Rica, and a number of delegations also provided updates on recent outreach activities.

Turkey, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Australia presented their implementation experiences. Suggested by Australia, this information-sharing exercise was welcomed by several delegations. They emphasized its value, particularly in demonstrating to all WTO members — including current non-participants — that the disciplines were designed to allow for varied and flexible implementation.

Participants in the negotiations are close to agreeing on a set of common disciplines concerning licensing and qualification requirements and procedures as well as technical standards for suppliers of services. The negotiating text contains flexibilities to help governments implement the measures domestically while remaining free to pursue their national policy objectives.

A “far advanced” negotiating text capturing the progress made in 2020 was circulated by the chair, Jaime Coghi Arias of Costa Rica, in December 2020.

Turkey explained how certain flexibilities that the disciplines provide have been useful, and how they have informed domestic discussions on policy reform. The United States outlined its practice of facilitating licensing by administering certain professional services examinations remotely and internationally. The Republic of Korea spoke about its mechanism for publishing draft laws and regulations in advance and providing opportunities for comment to interested stakeholders, as foreseen in the disciplines. Finally, Australia addressed its experience in ensuring transparency, openness and effectiveness in the development of technical standards for services.

Many delegations took the floor to stress the usefulness and timeliness of this information-sharing exercise. A second round of presentations will take place in the next meeting on May 10, 2021. The chair thanked the participants for their positive engagement and their commitment to this process.

As part of the information exchange, participants also exchanged information on equivalent disciplines in regional trade agreements at the previous meeting on March 4.

The chair recalled that to date, 31 indicative draft schedules of commitments have been received, covering 57 members. The draft schedules from five participants in the talks are still pending. The chair encouraged those members who have not yet submitted their draft schedules to do so as soon as possible. He emphasized that the exchange of draft schedules is an important element in the negotiations, allowing the group to have a clear and solid basis to approach the next steps in the negotiations.

The chair and participants also provided updates on outreach activities they had participated in since the previous meeting. This included a webinar by the International Chamber of Commerce on “Addressing business challenges in services markets: the WTO Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation” on 18 March and a dedicated outreach event organized by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the Arab Group on 22 March. 

Background

Ministers from 59 WTO members launched negotiations at the 11th Ministerial Conference held in December 2017 in Buenos Aires. In May 2019, ministers meeting on the side lines of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) meetings confirmed their commitment to deliver a meaningful outcome by the 12th Ministerial Conference. The meetings are member-driven, transparent and open to all WTO members. The objective is to develop any necessary disciplines to ensure that domestic regulation measures relating to qualification requirements and procedures, technical standards and licensing requirements do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade in services.

Each WTO member’s schedule of commitments can be accessed here. The list of all sectors covered by the GATS can be found here. This factsheet provides more information on the rationale, potential economic benefits, and services domestic regulations in regional trade agreements.

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