With WTO December meet looming, negotiation on services agreement still on

India is pitching for the services agreement to be made part of the agenda and is drumming up support for it
Ahead of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) next ministerial meeting in December, India continues to negotiate on a possible trade facilitation agreement in services (TFS).

"Talks on the TFS is ongoing, with India engaging with all nations on the matter. With only six months left, we don’t have much time or capital left. A lot of work remains to be done,” a senior government official said under conditions of anonymity. 

The WTO's ministerial meeting, held once in two years, is set to be held in December in Argentina. As a result, negotiations are heating up on the topics to be discussed at the meet. Once the official agenda is framed, nations are bound by WTO norms to discuss those and not introduce newer ones.

India is pitching for the services agreement to be made part of the agenda and is drumming up support for it. 

Expected to be framed along the lines of a similar one for goods that was passed by the WTO last year, the services agreement would give a major push to the economy as the sector contributes about 60 per cent to its GDP and accounts for 28 per cent of the total workforce.

India had made a formal presentation of the 13-page draft legal text at a meeting of the WTO’s Working Party on Domestic Regulation back in March at WTO headquarters in Geneva.

India emphasised that the TFS is not about new market access for services, a senior government official said under conditions of anonymity. India had argued that the draft legal text covering Mode 1 Mode 2 and Mode 4 is based on the mandatory obligation by member nations and are deemed to be practical, he added.

The modes refer to various facets of services trade, including cross-border services, consumption abroad and movement of short-term services providers or natural persons, respectively. 

It provides for special and differential treatment provisions under which developing countries are offered a transition period while least-developed countries are exempted from undertaking any commitments arising out of the TFS agreement, India argued.

The note was aimed at reducing transaction costs by doing away with unnecessary regulatory procedures and reducing the administrative burden on trade in services. In its note, India has proposed for simplification of procedures and clarity in work permits and visas for smooth movement of professionals.

Talking about the proposal, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that India's position reflected that of other major nations with a strength on trade in services. 

The government has also suggested multiple entry visas for those who meet the host country’s immigration criteria in a comprehensive proposal on cross-border movement of services, sources said.

India has asked such countries to rely on the companies employing workers to judge their competence as it looks to build a global consensus on cross-border business workers. 

Developed nations want the WTO to start negotiations on e-commerce and investments instead of carrying on further discussions on development-related issues from the erstwhile Doha Round. This includes talks on services trade. 

However, interestingly, members of the African bloc of nations have expressed reservations against the proposal arguing that it will place significant obligations on them. 

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