Pursuing a Services Re-start

Original Publication Date: 
19 November, 2006

Geneva - Washington and Brussels on Friday jointly reached out to a score of developing countries - including Brazil, South Africa, Thailand and Kenya, among others - to accelerate the Doha Development Agenda services negotiations, saying the time has come to enter into hard bargaining on what each can give and take in both market openings and rules, WTD was told (WTD, 11/17/06).

Several developing-country envoys that attended the meeting said they had been ready to submit their initial - and in some cases - revised offers on July 31, just after World Trade Organization Director General Pascal has called for a suspension of the overall talks.

The United States and the European Union - leaders of the so-called "Friends of Services" - told the countries that they should not only finalize their offers but also get ready to enter into negotiating the nitty-gritty of market access, trade diplomats said. The 20-odd countries from all regions were "sensitized" to the large quantum of work that remains in the services negotiations, said one industrial-country diplomat. He said there is a recognition that services - in both market access and rules - need to be accelerated without waiting for agriculture and nonagricultural market access.

During the meeting, the United States agreed with a group of developing countries ushered by Brazil that an excessively high bar on disciplines in the domestic regulation mandate would adversely affect the services negotiations. Washington said proposed disciplines in the negotiating mandate must be flexible, but not undermine the rights of members, one negotiator added.

Brazil, according to sources, responded that it would pull its revised services offer off the table if the autonomy of its regulators is undermined through the chairman's text as presented in July.

Domestic Regulation

Disciplines on domestic regulation have become a bone of contention between the United States, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia and some African countries on one side and Hong Kong, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand and Mexico on other. The United States and Brazil are concerned about a Hong Kong proposal that calls for very detailed disciplines on the domestic regulation mandate, including "necessity" language.

Mexico and Switzerland also urged standards for domestic regulation, while India - along with several developing countries - demanded transparent and simple disciplines in qualification requirements so as to minimize the barriers on movement of short-term services providers - under Mode 4.

Services trade negotiations chair Fernando de Mateo will hold "fire-side chats" with trade envoys from two dozen countries sometime this week, with an informal meeting with all members on November 29, said another trade diplomat.

In Washington, WTO trade in services director Hamid Mamdouh told reporters that once movement is seen in agriculture and NAMA, then services could move apace. However, "maximum" effort would be required.

Mr. Mamdouh was in Washington for a day to visit with Congressional staff and trade officials.

Should everything in fact re-start - as announced by the WTO Director General last week - then Mr. Mamdouh expected a "cluster" of services negotiations to be conducted in early January. Chairman Mateo has called for an "informal" Services Council meeting at the end of this month.