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International services trade & the WTO

International services trade & the WTO

Services trade between countries is regulated by the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

What is the GATS?

The GATS is an agreement signed by all WTO Members that sets out the rules for international services trade. It aims to give all WTO Members equal access to services markets and provide certainty to business.

Under the GATS, each WTO Member specifies the access foreign service providers have to their market and whether they are treated differently to local providers.

The GATS is designed to apply to any type of service in any sector except those services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority. WTO Members retain the right to regulate public services that are supplied by the government on a non-commercial basis, such as public health or education services.

The full text of the GATS is available on the WTO website.

What are Australia's commitments under the GATS?

Australia's original GATS commitments were made in 1994 as part of the Uruguay Round of negotiations. We have since made several updates to these commitments and offered additional commitments as part of the WTO Doha Round negotiations.

Our commitments are detailed in the documents below. For help understanding GATS schedules, please refer to the WTO website.

What are other Members' commitments under the GATS?

You can search other Members' GATS commitments on the WTO website.

The WTO also has a guide on how to read a GATS schedule.

Services domestic regulation

Services domestic regulation relates to the licensing, qualification, and technical standards affecting the trade in services in an economy. Poorly designed or implemented, domestic regulation can act as behind-the-border barriers and inhibit services trade. Rules on services domestic regulation agreed in the WTO aim to reduce unnecessarily burdensome, costly and opaque regulation. This benefits service suppliers through increased transparency, reduced red-tape and streamlined procedures for qualifications and licensing.

GATS Article VI:4 provides WTO members with a mandate to ensure that services domestic regulation is not an unnecessary barrier to trade. Negotiations on rules for services domestic regulation between WTO members have been ongoing since the early 2000s to deliver on the commitments to best practice domestic regulation. In 2017, Australia led renewed discussions on updating services domestic regulation commitments that reflect the modern needs and interests of service suppliers seeking to access global markets.

In December 2021, negotiations concluded at the WTO on an agreement on new rules for services domestic regulation. The outcome was the ‘Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation’ (DR JSI). A total of 70 governments (69 WTO members and one acceding government) — accounting for over 92.5 per cent of world services trade — are part of the initiative. The DR JSI commits these governments to implement more predictable and transparent domestic regulations. This includes streamlining procedures for submitting applications, enabling electronic submissions, and ensuring assessment criteria and fees are transparent. The DR JSI also contains the first international trade rules requiring domestic regulatory measures to not discriminate between men and women.

The DR JSI will address practical barriers to Australian entities that operate in overseas markets, facilitating further opportunities for service exports and strengthening Australia’s participation in global value chains. A joint OECD-WTO study calculated that implementation of these rules could generate annual services trade cost savings of USD 150 billion.

More information on services domestic regulation, including the DR JSI, is available on the WTO website.

Where can I find out more about the WTO's role in international services trade?

Visit the Services Gateway on the WTO website.

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