TISA Talks Continue in Geneva, Eyeing July Stocktaking Session

19 February 2015

Negotiators for a plurilateral agreement to liberalise services trade capped their latest round of talks on Friday, welcoming Uruguay as the 24th participant. Sources confirmed that negotiators are now eyeing a July stocktaking session as an opportunity for senior officials and ambassadors to help give additional direction going forward.

The talks on this proposed Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), as the proposed deal is known, formally kicked off in 2013, following exploratory discussions among interested participants the year prior. This latest round was hosted by the US, marking the first formal TISA round of the new year.

Disciplines

During the past week alone, officials reportedly held discussions on 14 different topics, with talks on some disciplines more advanced than others. Among the more advanced are those involving domestic regulation, telecommunications, financial services, transparency, and e-commerce, sources said, noting that many of these are among the “classical services sectors” found in many existing FTAs.

Talks on other disciplines, such as maritime and road transport, are said to be less far along. Discussions on the subject of Mode 4 – the movement of natural persons – also needs additional work, sources say.

A September proposal by Turkey on healthcare services reportedly received a lukewarm welcome last week, with EU officials saying publicly before the meet that this topic should not fall under the remit of a trade deal. An alleged version of the proposal leaked by the Associated Whistleblowing Press, an NGO, had sparked heated public debate ahead of last week’s talks.

Given the various issues currently on the table, some sources say that the planned July stocktaking could help clarify the perimeter of the future agreement, giving experts a clearer indication of which are the key issues to tackle going forward.

Negotiators are currently dealing “with all issues all the time,” one source noted, suggesting that the July meeting could be a time to recognise which proposals have less support and potentially put those aside for the time being as participants work to stabilise the agreement.

Market access discussions

Another key area in the TISA talks involves market access offers. Most TISA members had presented initial market access offers in time for the February 2014 negotiating round, with the exception of Pakistan and Paraguay. (See Bridges Weekly, 27 February 2014)

Since then, TISA members have been meeting bilaterally to discuss these offers in further detail, and to request additional improvements in areas where they have specific commercial interests – a process that is still ongoing.

Sources say it is not yet clear when Pakistan and Paraguay will table their initial offers, and new member Uruguay will also need to submit an offer of its own. Some of the existing initial offers by certain TISA members also remain incomplete, with some sectors or modes of supply not yet covered, delegates confirmed.

One official speculated that these could both be resolved by the July stocktaking session, while acknowledging that this was one “possible scenario.”

Another key question that has emerged in the talks in recent months involves how to address cases where TISA members provide additional market access to third countries in FTAs concluded further down the road.

While there has been a proposal, dubbed “MFN-forward,” to include a provision within the deal’s text that would extend any new benefits from deals with third parties to all TISA participants, some members have reportedly said they would prefer to deal with this subject as new FTAs are concluded, rather than attempting to determine it in advance under TISA.

There remains a “lack of common ground” on this issue, one source confirmed. Other officials concurred that discussions on how to approach this subject are still ongoing.

China application still pending

Though Uruguay has now joined, China’s request to join the services talks remains pending, sources confirmed, citing domestic internal processes in certain TISA member countries. Both countries had applied to join the services talks in September 2013.

While some non-TISA members are said to be watching the talks with interest, no one else has formally asked to join the negotiations at this stage.

Timeline?

While a formal deadline has not been set for the TISA talks, some sources speculated that a potential outcome could be reached in time for the WTO’s 10th Ministerial Conference (MC10) this December in Nairobi, or at least that some announcement could be made regarding the talks’ progress.

Others were more sceptical over whether an outcome could be announced by then, and whether it would be a good idea to tie a TISA result to MC10, given that the former is not yet a WTO initiative and has sparked some controversy among non-participants. Some officials suggested that the July stocktaking will give a clearer indication of what might be achievable and when.

Members of the TISA group will be holding their next negotiating round in April. That meeting will be following by the July stocktaking session, with two subsequent rounds planned for later this year.

Along with Uruguay, the participants of TISA currently include Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, the EU, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Switzerland, Turkey and the US.

ICTSD reporting.

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