New ITC seminar series to help LDCs pursue interests in services trade
Better-informed and more effective negotiating skills in the area of services trade and investment can be expected to improve least-developed countries’ (LDCs’) prospects for negotiating outcomes with greater developmental impact on the ground.
This was one of the key messages to emerge from the first in a series of seminars on international services trade rules and negotiations launched by ITC in collaboration with the LDC Group in Geneva. The 8 December gathering at World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva focused on “Why the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) matters for LDCs”.
Designed in close consultation with the LDC Group and funded by the Australian Mission to the WTO, the six-seminar series, “Making Sense of the GATS and Applying Good Practices in Services Negotiations,” is designed to help LDC delegates in Geneva share experiences and best practices in order to better understand the challenges associated with negotiating services rules and commitments. Private sector representatives from LDCS will share practical experiences in services exporting throughout.
The discussions are by invitation only in order to encourage a frank exchange of views, but formal presentations will be publicly available on the ITC website.
The series takes place against the backdrop of WTO Members’ ongoing work to give practical effect to a 2011 decision allowing Members to grant preferential market access to LDCs in services trade, as has long been possible for goods trade. A high-level meeting at which Members are expected to signal future services trade preferences for LDCs is due to take place early in 2015.
The seminar series seeks to help LDC delegates improve their understanding of the GATS, its terminology and negotiating history, as well as share good practices in services negotiations, such as analysis, stakeholder consultation, inter-agency coordination and alliance building.
At the 8 December seminar, Sherry Stephenson of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) provided a concise overview of the services economy. She emphasised that in the 21st century, economic growth is driven chiefly by services trade and investment, with knowledge-intensive business services the fastest growing segment of global trade. She provided evidence on the dynamic contribution of services exports to GDP in LDCs, arguing that services export growth could enable LDCs to leapfrog the manufacturing stage of development.
Officials from the WTO Secretariat provided detailed technical insights on the obligations and opportunities for services trade under the GATS, as well as guidance relevant to current and future negotiations. Antonia Carzaniga and Markus Jelitto contrasted the breadth of rules applying to international services delivery and the flexible nature of GATS commitments and scheduling with the more narrow and less flexible nature of commitments on goods. Joy Kategekwa gave an overview of how the four modes of delivery defined in GATS rules - cross-border supply, consumption abroad, commercial presence, and movement of services providers – are relevant to LDCs. She placed emphasis on Mode 4, which offers potential for LDCs, but on which further negotiation may be needed due to the interconnectedness of trade and immigration policy.
Hamid Mamdouh, Director of the WTO Division on Services observed that while the services agenda has been somewhat dormant at the WTO, this is set to change. He said that the seminars were an important tool to keep delegates up-to-date, and called for thinking about “whether the GATS can be used as a framework that positively affects policy reform” in LDCs.
Feedback from LDC missions was strongly positive, with a range of topics identified for future discussion, including analysis of LDC services competitiveness, and the so-called “servicification” of manufacturing, which refers to the high and growing services value added share in manufacturing output.
The second and third seminars are tentatively scheduled for mid-January 2015, and will feature private sector representatives from LDCs who will offer a business perspective on issues including financial services, business process outsourcing, information technology, professional services, tourism, construction, transportation and logistics, education and creative industry services. Discussions will also be held on important aspects of negotiations and domestic regulation.
For more information on the seminar series, please click here.