The US announced that it will join the process on services domestic regulation at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and “support conclusion of the Initiative” by the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in November.
The US made the announcement at a participants’ meeting on 20 July 2021, bringing the number of participating WTO members to 64.
The services domestic regulation process is one of several “Joint Statement Initiatives” (JSIs) launched at the WTO’s MC11 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December 2017, by groups of WTO members, with other initiatives covering topics such as investment facilitation for development (IFD), electronic commerce, and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). A Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment was also launched on that occasion.
Participating members are seeking to develop disciplines regarding licensing and qualification requirements and procedures for services suppliers as well as technical standards. According to JSI participants, such disciplines would ensure that “domestic regulation procedures for trade in services are clear, predictable and transparent and do not unnecessarily restrain trade,” with flexibilities envisaged based on countries’ national policy objectives and levels of development.
Jaime Coghi Arias of Costa Rica, coordinator of the negotiations, welcomed the US’ announcement as a “significant step” that brings participants “closer to achieving an outcome by MC12.” “I am optimistic that we will very soon be in a position to issue a clean text of disciplines on services domestic regulation, and thereby conclude work on the text-based pillar of our negotiations,” he said.
In its release, the Office of the USTR notes that the talks “are an opportunity to improve the transparency and fairness of processes for obtaining licenses to provide services” by US professionals and for US firms in retailing, express delivery, and financial services, among other fields. “Improved transparency and regulatory processes can support democratic values, open societies, and a worker-centric trade agenda,” the Office states.
The US also highlighted the importance of a provision that seeks to bar discrimination between men and women in issuing licenses. This would be the first time that such a provision is included in a WTO discipline. [WTO News Release] [USTR Press Release] [Factsheet on Services Domestic Regulation Process]