TiSA Ministerial Cancelled, Officials To Prepare for 2017

24 November 2016

A planned ministerial meeting for countries involved in negotiating a plurilateral services trade agreement has been called off, sources confirmed, with negotiators and ambassadors to meet instead in order to review progress to date and prepare for 2017.

The Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) has been under negotiation since 2013 and currently includes 23 WTO members, counting the EU and its 28 member states as one participant. The group covers approximately 70 percent of world services trade, with participants making up 65 percent of global GDP.

Sources say that the decision to cancel the ministerial was confirmed at a TiSA ambassadors’ meeting on Friday 19 November, at which point they determined that a deal would not be possible this year as previously envisioned. (See Bridges Weekly, 27 October 2016)

The goal of the ministerial had been to reach a political-level accord on TiSA, though sources noted that some additional work such as conducting a legal “scrub” of the text and verifying schedules would still have required more time.

Remaining work

The reason for the ministerial cancellation, sources say, was partly due to the need to resolve certain other key issues, such as reaching an outcome on cross-border data flows and resolving a debate over how to deal with “new services” in members’ schedules. Some also referred to potential uncertainty over the position of the incoming US administration.

An outcome on data flows is considered to be pending the submission of an EU proposal, which is still undergoing internal domestic processes. When such a proposal – which would aim to balance the interest in free flows of data with privacy considerations – might secure the necessary internal approval before being tabled within TiSA for negotiation is not yet clear.

Resolving a disagreement over the interest some members have expressed in including a reservation in their schedules for “new services” is another pending topic.

Some TiSA participants, including the EU, have reportedly included such a reservation in their offers, while noting that no “new services” have been created since the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) that do not fall under the existing UN classification system – suggesting that the issue is more of a theoretical one.

Given that the TiSA accord takes a “negative list” approach on national treatment commitments, some other participants such as those involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) accord have reportedly argued that keeping such reservations could potentially lead to an imbalance in commitments and leave a significant loophole open as well.

However, multiple sources speaking to Bridges confirmed that the recent weeks of talks had seen positive progress overall, particularly in light of the negotiating round held in early November. Many areas are reportedly close to completion, pending additional technical work and some final political decisions.

The revised market access offers in October reportedly saw some notable improvements by some participants, which sources said marked another positive development, while noting that nothing is final yet. (See Bridges Weekly, 27 October 2016)

Coming up

The upcoming meetings in December will aim to review the progress made so far, as well as to safeguard these advances in order to resume talks on that basis next year, though when the talks may continue exactly is not yet clear.

Sources say that chief negotiators are due to meet in Geneva from 6-7 December, with ambassadors to gather on 8 December. Intersessional discussions will continue in the meantime to advance technical work.

ICTSD reporting.

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