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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 Members equal access to services markets and provide certainty to business.

Under the GATS, each 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. Members retain the right to regulate public services such as water supply, health and education.

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 discussions

Negotiations have been ongoing since the early 2000s, including as part of the Doha Round, to deliver on a WTO built-in agenda to give effect to GATS Article VI:4 (Domestic Regulation). In 2017, Australia led an initiative to renew these discussions, resulting in current ongoing negotiations seeking to draft rules that reflect the modern needs and interests of service suppliers seeking to access global markets.

Rules on domestic regulation in the WTO target behind-the-border barriers. The rules aim to reduce costly and opaque regulatory barriers and benefit service suppliers through increased transparency, reduced red-tape and stream-lined procedures for qualifications and licensing. By targeting behind-the-border barriers, rules on domestic regulation facilitate access to international markets, including for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and online providers.

The disciplines are primarily a transparency mechanism and aim to address such issues as: submission of applications and timeframes, electronic copies and processing of applications, fees and assessment of qualifications, publication of information and development of measures.

More broadly, these negotiations demonstrate the importance of the multilateral trading system in helping address the challenges faced by all services suppliers, including MSMEs and on-line providers.

Australia has taken an active role in these negotiations to ensure market access commitments are not undermined by opaque rules and regulations, and to increase opportunities for Australian suppliers.

On May 23 2019, 59 WTO Members, representing over 70 per cent of world trade, issued a statement [DOCX 32 KB] | [PDF 45 KB] agreeing to work towards finalising these rules by the next WTO Ministerial Council meeting in June 2020 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

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

Visit the Services Gateway on the WTO website.

Last Updated: 20 June 2019
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