TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov15/07)
11 November 2015
Third World Network

LDCs welcome efforts on services waiver, but more needs to be done
Published in SUNS #8128 dated 5 November 2015

Geneva, 4 Nov (Kanaga Raja) - The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) Group at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has welcomed what it said are real efforts by members to implement a pledge to provide services and services suppliers from the LDCs with improved market access, but cautioned that more needs to be done.

At a meeting of the Council for Trade in Services on 2 November dedicated to the services waiver for the LDCs, Ambassador Shameem Ahsan of Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of the LDC Group, said the group applauded the efforts so far to make this pledge a reality.

According to trade officials, Amb. Ahsan said that there is now "ample evidence on [the] table" to show that WTO members are committed to advance services supply by the LDCs.

He however cautioned that more needs to be done. In this context, he highlighted amongst others that definition of preferences was not clear, and called for the notifying member to spell out clearly where the changes are in the GATS schedule.

According to trade officials, the LDC Group also outlined a proposal for a possible decision on the LDC services waiver at the upcoming Nairobi Ministerial Conference.

Trade officials said that the LDCs have proposed an extension of the waiver period to 15 years from the date of submission of each notification (as opposed to the current 15-year lifespan of the waiver as from the date of its adoption in December 2011), and a definition of the term "preferential treatment" in relation to the waiver.

Meanwhile, the Council approved notifications submitted by China, Iceland, India, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey containing preferences that go beyond market access commitments.

The Chair of the Council, Ambassador Martin Eyjolfsson of Iceland, earlier informed members that 17 WTO members have now submitted notifications outlining how they will provide preferential treatment to LDC services and service suppliers.

The members that have submitted notifications are Canada; Australia; Norway; Korea; China; Hong Kong-China; Chinese Taipei; Singapore; New Zealand; Switzerland; Japan; Mexico; Turkey; the United States; India; Chile; and Iceland.

The Chair also said that Brazil has just forwarded its notification to the WTO secretariat.

Brazil later said that its notification was expected to be circulated in the coming days.

According to trade officials, the European Union said that it was confident that it would be able to submit its notification soon.

South Africa said that its notification was in the final stages of domestic approval.

According to trade officials, Uganda, on behalf of the LDC Group, gave a detailed assessment (reportedly in an 80-page powerpoint presentation) of the notifications that have been received to date.

The assessment covered 16 notifications, with Canada being excluded (reportedly the LDC Group indicated that Canada's submission did not meet the requirement of specificity).

According to trade officials, the LDC Group said that the number of notifications received was "impressive" considering that no progress was made on the issue in the first three years after the waiver was adopted, and that it showed that WTO members were committed to the integration of LDCs into the multilateral trading system.

The LDC Group further said that a number of sectors sought by the LDCs in their collective request of July 2014 for the operationalization of the services waiver were strongly reflected in the notifications and that all modes of services supply are variously featured.

According to the Group, around 54 percent of the collective request appears to be considered in the notifications, although more needs to be done to address requests related to non-market access concerns (visas, work permits, residence permits and recognition of professional qualifications and accreditation).

Some of the pledges outlined in the notifications went beyond the existing commitments in members' GATS schedule of commitments or beyond the preferences pledged at the 5 February high-level meeting on the services waiver. (See SUNS #7958 dated 10 February 2015).

According to the LDC Group, clarifications are however needed -- some notifications do not spell out precisely how a preference will operate for LDCs, and few contained commitments that went beyond market access.

According to trade officials, concerns were also expressed about the lack of commitments covering Mode 4 (movement of natural persons).

Members that submitted notifications provided some initial clarification regarding the commitments they have offered.

They said that they were prepared to discuss the concerns of the LDCs bilaterally.

According to trade officials, India said that the questions that have been posed by the LDC Group regarding its notification will be sent to capital.

The US, in reference to some of the comments made on Mode 4, maintained that its notification clearly has Mode 4 in every entry, said trade officials.

Australia said that it was prepared to work with the LDC Group on drafting a "Ministerial Declaration on LDCs and Trade in Services" for the Nairobi Ministerial Conference.

It said that members needed to look beyond the waiver and address issues such as supply-side constraints and technical assistance in order to help the LDCs benefit from the new market access opportunities.