TISA Participants Review Progress, Plan Next Steps at Stockholding Session

16 July 2015

Negotiations for a planned agreement to liberalise services trade continued to make steady progress last week, sources say, with participants also conducting a highly-awaited “stocktaking” exercise to see where the talks stand and how to proceed.

The 6-10 July meeting on the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), as the proposed deal is known, included a regular negotiating round as well as the above-mentioned stocktaking meeting, the latter of which involved a review of all negotiating topics, from offers to proposals to draft text.

The past week also saw Mauritius formally join the services talks, bringing the number of participants to 25, when including the 28-nation EU as one party. Mauritius is the first African country to join the TISA initiative and had confirmed its intent to request a seat at the negotiating table this past March. (See Bridges Africa, 11 March 2015)

The group now includes Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, the EU, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Switzerland, Turkey, the US, and Uruguay.

These participants account for over 70 percent of global services trade, according to the European Commission. China’s pending application, which was submitted in September 2013, has not yet been formally approved, and no indication has been given on when or if this will occur.

Reviewing proposals

Since the launch of the talks, TISA participants have been discussing a series of proposals for “new and enhanced disciplines” to include in the agreement, such as financial services, air and maritime transport, transparency, telecommunications, and government procurement, to name a few.

The large number of disciplines suggested in these proposals – reportedly 17 in all – had proven somewhat difficult to manage in earlier rounds, sources say. With that in mind, one of the key goals of the stocktaking exercise was to review how far along the discussions on these various proposals have advanced, what support each has, and potential next steps.

Of these disciplines, financial services and domestic regulation are advancing well, with sources noting that there has been significant convergence in what should be in those annexes, though details still need fine-tuning.

Other annexes that are also reasonably far along include telecommunications services, Mode 4, and e-commerce. Mode 4, in trade jargon, refers to the movement of natural persons – in other words, when someone from one country is in another’s territory for the purpose of supplying a service. E-commerce and Mode 4 are two areas that are particularly significant for many developing countries’ services trade interests.

Other areas that have advanced, but to a lesser degree, reportedly include maritime transport, transparency, and environment services. Government procurement, an EU proposal, is in the early stages of discussion, sources say, being comparatively new.

Talks on a proposal backed by the US on competitive delivery services is considerably less advanced and will require more fine-tuning and discussion if it is to gain more support, sources say. Meanwhile, a proposal submitted by Turkey on healthcare services last year is unlikely to move ahead, given that the majority of TISA participants have said that they do not wish to engage on the subject within the trade deal.

TISA participants have now agreed to give all participants until 31 July to submit new proposals on new topics. Sources say that only one such proposal is expected, specifically from the US on the subject of state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Market access

Discussions on market access continued during last week’s TISA meeting, with sources noting that three participants – Mexico, Peru, and Canada – provided updates on their previous offers. Mexico, for example, reported provided an update on telecommunications services, given recent changes to the country’s telecommunications market.

TISA participants are reportedly aiming to have completed offers from all participants in early autumn. To date, Pakistan and Paraguay have not yet tabled initial offers, and some of the existing offers from other participants are not complete.

Uruguay and Mauritius, being newer to the group, may take longer to submit their own initial offers, some sources suggested. Uruguay became a TISA member in February of this year. (See Bridges Weekly, 19 February 2015)

Another stocktaking

Along with the push to complete market access offers and eventually have participants submit revised offers, the coming months are expected to give participants a chance to refine the proposals on new and enhanced disciplines further, to the point where they can begin “stabilising” some of these areas.

Other key topics that are set to come up include discussions on dispute settlement provisions, as well as how to set up the agreement so that it can be “multilateralised” upon reaching a critical mass of participants.

TISA participants have not put a formal deadline on the talks, sources say. The group is set to meet two more times this year, in October and December, with trade officials then aiming to hold another stocktaking exercise in early 2016.

ICTSD reporting.

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