EU backs new phase of talks on multilateral services agreement
By Brian Beary in Washington and Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt in Brussels | Friday 06 July 2012
The European Union, together with 18 other countries, has agreed to enter into a new round of talks on a possible multilateral services agreement within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) framework. This new phase, which would start in September, would help define “the contours of an ambitious agreement [...] to allow us to undertake any necessary consultations or procedures prior to any negotiation,” 19 WTO members said in a joint statement, on 5 July.
“This reflects the EU’s goal to re-energise services trade liberalisation in a manner that is both consistent with and complementary to the WTO,” said the EU Ambassador to the WTO, Angelos Pangratis. “The initiative follows the guidance of ministers given at the eighth ministerial conference to fully explore ‘different negotiating approaches’ to areas under discussion in the Doha Development Agenda [DDA],” he explained.
Though the 19 WTO members have only just agreed on preparing the ground for negotiations, this new incentive in services liberalisation can be seen as an encouraging step in reviving the DDA talks - the WTO’s trade negotiation round - which have been completely stalled since 2008.
The 19 states hope to build a future services agreement on the achievements of the 1995 General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), they explained in their 5 July statement. It should also build upon the “great advances” members have made in opening up their markets, particularly through more than 100 services agreements that have been notified to the WTO since 1995. “We believe it is time to bring this progress back to Geneva with the ultimate aim of reinforcing and strengthening the rules-based multilateral trading system,” the 19 said.
In their pre-negotiation discussions, said WTO members will be looking at ways to further broaden participation of developing countries for an agreement which, according to them, should be “comprehensive” in scope, include market access commitments and contain new and enhanced rules developed through negotiations.
The EU’s largest trading partner, the United States, has warmly welcomed the new momentum on services liberalisation. US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said it was “one of the most constructive and productive activities happening in Geneva right now - a hopeful counterpoint to recent years of impasse in the Doha talks,” adding “it is good news that we are moving forward”. In the WTO’s Doha Round, the US had pushed for an ambitious agreement that increased market access, especially to the markets of emerging economies, but in 2008 those talks foundered on that precise issue, with India proving reluctant to liberalise its agriculture sector. Since then, the only other trade deal that Washington has been negotiating is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a regional pact with multiple Asian and American countries.