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U.S., Global Partners Seek Services Trade Liberalization
July 10, 2012

By MacKenzie C. Babb
IIP Staff Writer
July 06, 2012 

A number of World Trade Organization member economies are exploring a new international agreement in Geneva that could provide the foundation for multilateral consensus on liberalization of trade in services.

“The services discussion is one of the most constructive and productive activities happening in Geneva right now,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a July 5 statement, adding that partners in the talks “are moving forward.”

Kirk said the services talks are part of an overall goal to reinforce and enhance the organization’s rules-based trading system.

“I’m confident that this effort has the potential to expand, succeed and ultimately strengthen the multilateral trading system, facilitating global trade in services and supporting jobs for workers in this vital sector,” Kirk said.

Economies participating in the negotiations on trade in services have included Australia; Canada; Costa Rica; the European Union; Hong Kong; Israel; Japan; Mexico; New Zealand; Norway; Pakistan; Peru; the Republic of Korea; Switzerland; Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Turkey; and the United States.

In a collective statement, the members said the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) provides a strong foundation for liberalizing services trade, but that, at the same time, there have been considerable developments since the agreement entered into force in 1995.

“A significant number of members have made great advances in opening up their markets, both autonomously as well as through more than 100 services trade agreements notified to the WTO,” the statement said. It added that many of these deals have broken new ground both in market access and in the development of improved services-trade rules.

“We believe it is time to bring this progress back to Geneva,” the statement said. “We plan to move our exploratory discussions to a new phase aimed at clearly defining the contours of an ambitious agreement on trade in services to allow us to undertake any necessary consultations or procedures prior to any negotiations.”

They said the eventual deal would build on the achievements of the GATS and the developments since its entry into force.

The agreement should also be comprehensive in scope, provide opportunities for improved market access, and contain new and enhanced rules developed through negotiations, the group said.

“We encourage other WTO members who share a high level of ambition for the liberalization of trade in services, including these objectives, to take part in this effort,” the statement said. The group added that it is considering in particular how best to further broaden participation of developing and least-developed countries.

The statement said the participants will continue to intensify their collective work to develop concepts for the deal, and will also begin working on the mechanics for achieving the shared objective of liberalizing services trade.