TISA Members Hold First Review of Market Access Offers

27 February 2014

Talks for a plurilateral agreement on services trade advanced in Geneva this week, sources confirmed to Bridges. The latest round, hosted by the EU mission over a period of eight days, was the first in which participants reviewed initial market access offers.

The proposed deal, dubbed the Trade in Services Agreement - or TISA - aims to lower barriers in services trade, given the prolonged impasse in the services negotiations being conducted multilaterally under the WTO's Doha Round. The TISA talks began in early 2012, and have moved forward quickly in the two years since, with the core provisions of the draft text already being relatively stabilised.

Of the group's 23 participants, all but Pakistan and Paraguay had tabled initial offers in time for the past week's discussions. Two of these - those of the US and Japan - were submitted in September. (See Bridges Weekly, 26 September 2013)

The fact that nearly the entire group was able to submit an offer for this month's review was, in itself, welcomed as significant progress. In comparison, the services talks under the WTO's Doha Round struggled to get offers from the global trade body's full membership. As of April 2011, only 71 initial offers and 31 revised offers had been submitted after a decade of negotiations- a small fraction of the WTO's then-153 members.

Sources familiar with the latest round of TISA meetings said that participants generally adhered to the principle of offering the level of access achieved in their "best FTAs," with one delegate noting that the offers - while ranging in the level of maturity - overall reflect notable improvements over anything seen in the past, including in the context of the WTO's Doha Round.

Participants are next set to discuss the offers on a bilateral level among themselves in order to address specific issues, ahead of future group meetings. A couple of the offers were reportedly partial ones, sources say; those are expected to be completed ahead of the next round.

Sectoral text

During the eight-day gathering, participants also discussed a series of proposals that had been tabled for the sectoral part of the TISA negotiating text. The six topics under review during this session were financial services; telecommunications and e-commerce; domestic regulation and transparency; professional services; maritime transport; and mode 4, which involves services provided by foreign nationals abroad.

In some of these areas, such as financial services or domestic regulation and transparency, participants are looking to build upon what is already in the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services. Other areas, however, have not been dealt with at the multilateral level before.

Proponents of the various proposals in these six areas had consolidated these ahead of the meeting. These texts are meant to serve as early building blocks for a draft negotiating text in the sectoral section of TISA, though sources note that none of these are final, but are just meant to serve as a platform for further discussions in this area.

China, Uruguay membership undecided

Whether and when China, which expressed an interest late last year, or Uruguay may be brought into the group has not yet been decided. All current participants must agree to allow in new members; sources say some are still conducting their domestic processes in this area.

The group has long maintained that new participants are welcome, as long as they can show that they are willing to meet the level of ambition of the current group.

The current 23 participants - with the EU and its 28 member states counted as one - cover over two-thirds of global trade in services. The other members include Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Switzerland, Turkey, and the US.

Next steps

The next round is set to be held during the week of 28 April, and will be hosted by Australia. Multiple sources have said that there is no set deadline for concluding the talks at this stage, though participants aim to keep good momentum.

ICTSD reporting.

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