ITC hosts debate on plurilateral services liberalization negotiations

20 March 2013
ITC News
Without proper focus on services, further trade liberalization cannot lead to the productivity gains necessary to unlock the growth potential in many developing and developed countries, participants at a seminar in Geneva said yesterday.

Global services leaders, Geneva-based ambassadors and other participants at the inaugural session of ITC’s Trade in Services Seminar Series discussed the proposed plurilateral agreement on services that has been proposed by 21 World Trade Organization (WTO) members in response to the impasse of multilateral negotiations in the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). In the absence of an overarching DDA deal covering services, members of the Global Services Coalition, an international group of services industry associations, in 2011 initiated the idea of a stand-alone process for services negotiations to prepare an International Services Agreement. The countries backing the initiative represent around two thirds of global services trade and include both developed and developing nations. The negotiations are expected to be formally launched at the next round of the plurilateral negotiations, scheduled for late April.

Yesterday’s ITC discussion was moderated by Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, Director of the Trade and Services Division of the WTO in Geneva and speakers included members of the Global Services Coalition from Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei and the UK, while several Geneva-based ambassadors participated as commentators. See the programme brochure (pdf) for more details.

In her opening address, ITC Executive Director Patricia Francis emphasized the importance of services in international trade and the potential for developing countries to diversify further into service exports while creating jobs. “Services are now recognised as a driving force for economic growth and offering a potential new pathway to sustainable development,” Ms. Francis said, highlighting especially the role of tourism, business process outsourcing and logistics as promising services areas for developing countries while recognizing that services were an integral part of competitive manufacturing and agricultural exports. Services account for more than 50% of the world economy and over 60% of global employment, she said. Ms. Francis cited recent data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the WTO showing that services already make up more than half of global exports when trade is measured in value added terms, with the services component embodied in the value of exported goods explicitly accounted for.

Several speakers highlighted the importance of services liberalization for developing countries, where services are still often overpriced due to protected markets and regulatory inefficiencies. They commented on the importance of developing country participation among the 21 WTO members in the plurilateral negotiations, pointing to the involvement of Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Peru, Chinese Taipei and Turkey.

ITC’s Trade in Services Seminar Series will draw attention to key current issues on trade and development trends in trade in services and bring them to the attention of business and policy stakeholders. The objective of the seminar series, part of ITC’s revitalized programme on Trade in Services, is to assist in building services export excellence in developing countries leading to services export growth.

ITC relaunched its Trade in Services programme earlier this year to boost services exports from developing countries, generating impact including job creation, increased income for exporters and their families and empowerment of women and youth. Boosting exports increasingly means accessing services niches in global and regional value chains. In comparison to ITC’s previous Services programme, which focused largely on awareness raising activities, the new programme plans multiple levels of interventions in line with ITC’s methodology in other sectors. Interventions aim at the macro, meso and micro levels by working on services export strategies, building trade institutional capacity for promotion of services exports and improving exporters’ capacity in the sector.

For more information, download the conference brochure (pdf) and see the opening address by Ms. Francis.