What is the main purpose of the GATS?
The creation of the GATS was one of the landmark achievements of the Uruguay Round, whose results entered into force in January 1995. The GATS was inspired by essentially the same objectives as its counterpart in merchandise trade, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT): creating a credible and reliable system of international trade rules; ensuring fair and equitable treatment of all participants (principle of non-discrimination); stimulating economic activity through guaranteed policy bindings; and promoting trade and development through progressive liberalization.
While services currently account for over 60 percent of global production and employment, they represent no more than 20 per cent of total trade (BOP basis). This -- seemingly modest -- share should not be underestimated, however. Many services, which have long been considered genuine domestic activities, have increasingly become internationally mobile. This trend is likely to continue, owing to the introduction of new transmission technologies (e.g. electronic banking, tele-health or tele-education services), the opening up in many countries of long-entrenched monopolies (e.g. voice telephony and postal services), and regulatory reforms in hitherto tightly regulated sectors such as transport. Combined with changing consumer preferences, such technical and regulatory innovations have enhanced the "tradability" of services and, thus, created a need for multilateral disciplines.Which countries participateAll WTO Members, some 140 economies at present, are at the same time Me mbers of the GATS and, to varying degrees, have assumed commitments in individual service sectors. What services are coveredThe GATS applies in principle to all service sectors, with two exceptions.
Article I(3) of the GATS excludes "services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority". These are services that are supplied neither on a commercial basis nor in competition with other suppliers. Cases in point are social security schemes and any other public service, such as health or education, that is provided at non-market conditions.
Further, the Annex on Air Transport Services exempts from coverage measures affecting air traffic rights and services directly related to the exercise of such rights.
Progressive liberalization The Uruguay Round was only the beginning. GATS requires more negotiations, which began in early 2000 and are now part of the Doha Development Agenda. The goal is to take the liberalization process further by increasing the level of commitments in schedules.The annexes: services are not all the same International trade in goods is a relatively simple idea to grasp: a product is transported from one country to another. Trade in services is much more diverse. Telephone companies, banks, airlines and accountancy firms provide their services in quite different ways. The GATS annexes reflect some of the diversity.Movement of natural persons This annex deals with negotiations on individuals' rights to stay temporarily in a country for the purpose of providing a service. It specifies that the agreement does not apply to people seeking permanent employment or to conditions for obtaining citizenship, permanent residence or permanent employment.
Financial services Instability in the banking system affects the whole economy. The financial services annex gives governments very wide latitude to take prudential measures, such as those for the protection of investors, depositors and insurance policy holders, and to ensure the integrity and stability of the financial system. The annex also excludes from the agreement services provided when a government is exercising its authority over the financial system, for example central banks' services.
Telecommunications The telecommunications sector has a dual role: it is a distinct sector of economic activity; and it is an underlying means of supplying other economic activities (for example electronic money transfers). The annex says governments must ensure that foreign service suppliers are given access to the public telecommunications networks without discrimination.
Air transport services Under this annex, traffic rights and directly related activities are excluded from GATS's coverage. They are handled by other bilateral agreements. However, the annex establishes that the GATS will apply to aircraft repair and maintenance services, marketing of air transport services and computer-reservation services. Members are currently reviewing the annex.
Current work GATS sets a heavy work programme covering a wide range of subjects. Work on some of the subjects started in 1995, as required, soon after GATS came into force in January 1995. Negotiations to further liberalize international trade in services started in 2000, along with other work involving study and review.
Negotiations (Article 19) Negotiations to further liberalize international trade in services started in early 2000 as mandated by GATS (Article 19).
The first phase of the negotiations ended successfully in March 2001 when members agreed on the guidelines and procedures for the negotiations, a key element in the negotiating mandate. By agreeing these guidelines, members set the objectives, scope and method for the negotiations in a clear and balanced manner.