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Multilateral Fora - GATS

The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the Doha Development Agenda

A brief introduction on the GATS

During the Uruguay Round negotiations, which started in 1986 under the auspices of the GATT, new sectors were added in the multilateral framework and submitted to the liberalization process. Services formed part of this sectoral extension of the multilateral liberalization, until then limited to the goods. The GATS constitutes the legally binding outcome of these negotiations on services, finalized in April 1994 in the Marrakech Final Act. Intellectual Property was also concerned by this scope enlargement of multilateral liberalization, and is covered by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). In addition to the Uruguay Round sectoral achievements, the World Trade Organization (WTO) was set up in January 1995, in order to give a general structure and framework to the sectoral Agreements referred to above.

The GATS consists of the framework agreement - the Articles - and its Annexes. The main body of the Agreement contains rules of a general nature, applicable to all GATS services without any restrictions. Such rules are notably transparency, economic integration, domestic regulation and subsidies. They impose clear obligations to the Parties to the Agreement.

It also consists of the schedules of specific commitments related to the two disciplines of Market Access and National Treatment, and the lists of exemptions from the Most Favored Nation (MFN) treatment submitted by the Parties to the Agreement. The schedules and the exemption lists are integral parts of the Agreement. At the time of the signature of the Final Act of the Uruguay Round, on 15 April 1994, 95 schedules of specific commitments in services and 61 lists of derogation from the MFN principle had been submitted and agreed upon.

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The Consultation on GATS 2000

A new comprehensive WTO round was scheduled for 2000, but was launched only after the WTO Doha Ministerial Conference in November 2001. It is known as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). In February 2000, though, sectoral negotiations started in the World Trade Organization, on agriculture (GATT), Intellectual property (TRIPS) and services (GATS). As far as services are concerned, these negotiations were laid down in the GATS treaty itself, the so-called ‘built-in’ agenda. The Conclusions adopted by the General Affairs Council of 26 October 1999 (*), form the negotiating mandate for the European Commission and are also valid for the negotiations on the built-in agenda. As far as audiovisual services are concerned, this mandate has also been confirmed for the DDA negotiations.

In order to elaborate the European position on the resumption of negotiations on services, the Commission has launched a comprehensive process of gathering information from the Member States and from representatives of the European industry.

A first consultation was held in 1999 on audiovisual services. Another consultation was launched in 2000 to cover cultural services and to deepen the consultation for two sub-sectors of audiovisual services, namely music and recreational software. The purpose is to provide the Commission with a more detailed input on these sectors, in view of the preparation of the negotiation positions. As a follow-up to this consultation, a hearing on audiovisual services and GATS, focusing on those two sub-sectors as well as on recent developments regarding the international debate on cultural diversity, took place on 24 January 2002 in Brussels.

(*) "During the forthcoming WTO negotiations, the Union will ensure, as in the Uruguay Round, that the Community and its Member States maintain the possibility to preserve and develop their capacity to define and implement their cultural and audiovisual policies for the purpose of preserving their cultural diversity"

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The  Doha Development Agenda

The World Trade Organisation's fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha (Qatar) in November 2001 resulted in some far-reaching decisions on the future development of the WTO:

Overall, the Doha Development Agenda takes the WTO into a new era. Not only will the WTO continue to improve conditions for worldwide trade and investment; it will also, through enhanced and better rules, be able to play a much fuller role in the pursuit of economic growth, employment and poverty reduction. Better international governance and the promotion of sustainable development is the ambitious backdrop to the agenda. The EU firmly stands to push this agenda to a successful conclusion.

After a reflection period subsequent to the failure of the WTO Ministerial Meeting held in September 2003 - in Cancun (Mexico), the EU confirmed its commitment to multilateralism and to an early conclusion of the DDA and signalled its readiness to test out new approaches in order to make progress.

Further multilateral trade rule making, market opening, the integration of developing countries in the world trade system and the improvement of the functioning of the WTO remains a primary objective of EU trade policy. Further market access negotiations on services should bring considerable market opportunities for business as well as benefits to consumers world-wide. However, the EU does not seek general deregulation or privatisation of sectors where principles of public interest are at stake, and the EU is also committed to defending the right of WTO members to promote cultural diversity.

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Situation in the audiovisual service Sector

The audiovisual sector is one of the service sector less committed by WTO Members:only 27 out of 153 WTO Members have included audiovisual services in their GATS schedule of commitments either at the outcome of the Uruguay Round or after accession to the WTO.

As the vast majority of other WTO trading partners, the EU is convinced of the need to maintain the possibility to preserve and develop its capacity to define and implement policies in the audio-visual sector, in particular for the purpose of preserving cultural diversity. Therefore, in the DDA round the EU did not offer to make any GATS commitment in the audio-visual sector in its initial offer on services in 2003, nor did it submit any requests for the audio-visual service sector to its WTO trading partners in 2005. The European Communities and their Member States also maintained audio-visual exemptions to the Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) treatment.

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