Members discuss e-commerce, trade concerns and LDCs’ participation in services trade

WTO members addressed implementation of the services waiver for least-developed countries (LDCs), which seeks to boost their participation in services trade, at a meeting of the Council for Trade in Services on 16 May. They also discussed initiatives to boost digital trade and raised several concerns about trade in services — including issues related to the conflict in Ukraine.

LDC services waiver

The WTO LDC Group highlighted that implementation of the services waiver was one of the priorities for the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) identified by LDC trade ministers in a declaration issued in October 2021. The LDC Group called for members’ continued support on this issue, with a view to reaching agreement on improving the implementation of the waiver at MC12, which will take place from 12 to 15 June.

To ensure the waiver is implemented as effectively as possible, the LDC Group asked that the Council for Trade in Services monitor data related to LDC services exports. It also asked that the Council review information on LDC services suppliers and on consumers of LDC services in members granting preferential treatment to LDCs. In addition, it requested an assessment of best practices in facilitating the use of trade preferences for LDCs.

A total of 51 members have notified preferences for LDC services and service suppliers under the waiver, with the aim of boosting LDCs’ participation in world services trade. The waiver was formalized by a decision adopted at the 2011 Ministerial Conference.

A total of 36 WTO members are classified as LDCs. More information on the waiver can be found here.

E-commerce Work Programme

In discussions related to the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, several members shared information on their digital development strategies and initiatives in electronic commerce. It was highlighted that several members link the continuation of the discussions on the work programme to the extension of the moratorium on e-commerce at MC12. Members have agreed at previous ministerial conferences to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions.

Services trade concerns

Five specific trade concerns previously addressed in the Council featured in members’ discussions. They involved cybersecurity measures, 5-G-related measures and localization of customer services, among other topics.

Members asked about the scope and application of each other’s services trade measures in light of members’ obligations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The aim of these discussions is to improve transparency and monitoring of services trade measures and to ease trade frictions. The members concerned said they are complying with WTO rules. Some indicated that they remain available to engage with the members raising the concern or that the objective of the measures in question is to meet national policy objectives or protect national security.

The Russian Federation expressed concern about the restrictive measures introduced by several members on Russian services sectors in response to the conflict in Ukraine. The members concerned said the measures would not have been introduced if Russia had not invaded Ukraine and that the measures were taken to protect essential security interests in line with WTO rules. They expressed their strong condemnation of the conflict.

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