Little progress in GATS bodies

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

GENEVA: A week-long session of the WTO Council for Trade in Services (CTS) and subsidiary bodies in the week of 3 June appears to have made no progress on many of the pending issues.

Trade officials said on 7 June that while a number of questions have been discussed in the CTS and its subordinate bodies, no conclusions appear to have been reached.

The working party on GATS rules is still trying to reach an agreement on a work programme for negotiating services safeguards, with differences still on whether it should focus only on the safeguards issue or also on other issues, including on subsidies in services.

The Committee on Specific Commitments has been discussing how to schedule any commitments - whether through a separate and new schedule, or by amending the schedules already incorporated in GATS after the Uruguay Round.

Trade officials said that members were moving towards a “consolidation” approach - though it is apparent that if care is not taken (and things are allowed to be buried in some footnotes), the public, business and parliaments in each country may find themselves in difficulties in understanding and assessing what is done in the new round of services negotiations and assessing the reciprocal benefits.

The CTS itself discussed procedures where a country wants to modify its list of most-favoured-nation exemptions.

The fourth protocol on GATS (basic telecommunications) was allowed to be reopened to enable Papua New Guinea to accept it, while the technical issues relating to Egypt’s scheduling have been resolved, and its schedule made an integral part of GATS. Brazil has withdrawn its acceptance of this protocol since its parliament has made changes and enacted laws that are contrary to Brazil’s commitments and the changes cannot be reflected by changing the schedule.

The CTS also discussed the issue (which is popping up in every WTO body) of how the review of implementation by China is to be conducted. The viewpoints of the United States and China, which have been set out in other WTO bodies, were repeated.

The Chinese protocol of accession calls for an annual review for eight years in each of the WTO councils and their subordinate bodies, and by the General Council, and a final review in the 10th year, with a general requirement that China notify and provide information for the review.

At issue is the US demand for what it calls a “90-60-30 rule”: China to provide information 90 days before the annual review in each body, other members (in the light of this information) to put questions to China 60 days before, and China’s replies to be provided 30 days before the review.

China has insisted that it is committed under the protocol only to have an annual review and will discharge its obligation to provide information (not only on its own implementation, but raising questions about the implementation of the accession conditions by others).  However, China has repeatedly made clear that under the guise of procedure, it is not willing to modify its obligations under the protocol of accession.

Trade officials said that compressing into one week the regular meetings of the GATS subsidiary bodies, the regular session of the CTS itself and the special session (thus reducing the burden of developing countries and their need to bring capital-based officials) has resulted in inability to devote enough time to the issues, and the GATS talks would revert to a two-week schedule of meetings.

The next round of meetings is set for two weeks  from 15 July. (SUNS5136)                                        

From Third World Economics No. 282 (1-15 June 2002)