The WTO announced that WTO members discussed five new or enhanced proposals to advance services negotiations at meetings of the Working Party on Domestic Regulation and the Services Council on 14-17 March 2017. Four of these proposals aim to ensure that domestic licensing procedures and technical standards do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade while one proposal relates to the establishment of a trade facilitation agreement for services. The WTO provided the following summaries:

Proposed domestic regulation disciplines

Increasing the transparency of regulatory measures affecting services trade was the aim of a proposal put forward by eight co-sponsors (Australia, Colombia, European Union, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei). They are proposing enhanced transparency provisions requiring WTO members to make relevant information available to services providers and to publish draft regulation so as to allow interested parties to comment. Some developing countries highlighted their limited resources for publishing information and for setting up a system for responding to comments.

Two proposals — one submitted by Australia, Canada, Colombia, EU, Israel, Japan and Mexico and the other put forward by Hong Kong (China), Chile, Switzerland and New Zealand — concerned how WTO members should develop their regulatory measures, ensuring that they are reasonable and impartial, and are based on objective and transparent criteria. Members disagreed on whether a necessity test (ensuring that measures are not more burdensome than necessary) should feature in future disciplines on domestic regulation. Several said it was unrealistic to seek consensus on this issue.

A further proposal related to how WTO members should administer processes for the authorization of services suppliers and builds upon comments members shared during previous discussions. It has ten co-sponsors: Australia, Chile, Colombia, EU, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Korea, and Chinese Taipei. Some members reiterated concerns about the proposal of a “single window” for streamlining the licensing of service businesses. The co-sponsors said they are happy to discuss this further.

Proposal for a Trade Facilitation Agreement for Services

A draft text for a Trade Facilitation Agreement for Services was submitted by India. This builds on earlier submissions that New Delhi had put forward for discussion in previous meetings. The proposed agreement addresses a wider range of regulatory measures affecting services trade under the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). It aims to reduce bottlenecks and streamline procedures to ease services trade and intends to strike a balance between obligations and “best endeavour language”, India said. The proposal suggests setting a transition period for developing countries to comply with the provisions and only “encourages” least developed countries (LDCs) to do so.

Several developing countries called for the proposed agreement to replicate the special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries contained within the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) for goods, which entered into force on 27 February. The African Group questioned the benefits of the proposal for African countries and said they are analysing what the proposed agreement would mean for the LDC Services Waiver.

Some WTO members expressed interest in discussing the cross-border temporary movement of professionals (also known as mode 4) but some questioned whether this was feasible given the current political climate. Others expressed concerns about immigration issues, including social security contributions and multiple entry visas. Some members expressed reservations about the provisions on cross-border information flows, facilitation of movement of health patients and insurance portability.

India said it would take members’ comments into consideration.