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Services in the WTO

The General Agreement for Trade in Services (GATS) is the first multilateral, legally enforceable agreement covering trade in services, and investment in the services sector. Signed in 1995, it is designed to reduce or eliminate governmental measures that prevent services from being freely supplied across national borders or that discriminate against locally established services firms with foreign ownership.

The GATS provides a legal framework for addressing barriers to trade and investment in services. It includes specific commitments by WTO Members to restrict their use of those barriers, and provides a forum for further negotiations to open services markets around the world. These commitments are contained in Member schedules, similar to the Member schedules for tariffs.

The GATS calls for successive rounds of negotiations in pursuit of progressive liberalization of trade in services.  The current round was launched in 2000, and subsequently incorporated into the Doha Round in 2001.

The United States is focused on obtaining commitments to:

(1) maintain current levels of market openness, and

(2) remove significant trade impediments, such as local presence requirements, foreign equity limitations, and limitations on forms of establishment.

In addition to the market access negotiations, the Doha Round has also incorporated ongoing discussions in the Working Party on Domestic Regulations (WPDR), in which the United States favors strengthening the obligation on WTO Members to make their licensing and qualification requirements transparent while preserving the ability of federal, state and local regulators to achieve legitimate policy objectives.

Additional information:

WTO Services Negotiations Website

The U.S. Revised Services Offer

U.S. Position on WPDR Negotiations