Updated February 28th, 2024 at 12:14 IST

WTO overshadows talks on services trade, despite representing 20% of global commerce

Moreover, India's proposal on trade facilitation in services, aimed at reducing regulatory burdens affecting services trade, awaits substantive discussions.

Reported by: Business Desk
WTO services trade issues | Image:Unsplash

WTO services trade issues: Trade in services, encompassing areas like the movement of skilled professionals, constitutes over 20 per cent of global commerce, yet it continues to be overshadowed in the discussions at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), according to experts.

According to these observers, developed nations within the WTO are primarily focused on advancing their non-trade-related agendas, neglecting critical issues pertinent to the services sector that necessitate the attention of the Geneva-based multilateral body.


The ongoing 13th ministerial conference (MC13) of the WTO, currently on its third day, has gathered trade ministers and officials from the organisation's 166 member nations to deliberate on a spectrum of issues, including agriculture and fisheries subsidies.

An unnamed international trade expert remarked, "There are ample trade-related issues to discuss in the WTO, such as sanitary and phytosanitary issues, technical barriers to trade, and mutual recognition agreements (MRAs), but developed nations seem inclined to introduce new agendas."


Echoing similar sentiments, an official highlighted the absence of substantive discussions on enhancing services trade, particularly in terms of addressing mobility issues and restrictive policies impacting developing nations.

Another expert emphasised the significance of addressing concerns related to the movement of caregivers from emerging economies to affluent nations, underscoring the demographic dynamics of countries like India and the European Union.


Ajay Srivastava, the Founder of the Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI), underscored that services trade, accounting for over 20 per cent of global trade, remains entangled in opaque domestic regulations hindering cross-border transactions. Despite its significance, discussions on critical services trade issues receive scant attention at WTO meetings.

He noted that while the extension of the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions garners priority due to the interests of the USA, EU, and other developed countries, progress on other pressing matters remains sluggish.


The ongoing MC13 has seen little advancement on a proposal from the G-90, a group of 90 developing nations, aimed at enhancing flexibilities and exemptions for developing countries in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Moreover, India's proposal on trade facilitation in services (TFS), aimed at reducing regulatory burdens hindering services trade, awaits substantive discussions. The proposal underscores the necessity of addressing barriers, both at and behind borders, to unlock the full potential of services trade.


By proposing rules for the four modes of services trade categorised under the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), India seeks to facilitate smoother cross-border services trade, ultimately fostering economic growth and development.

(With PTI inputs.)


Published February 28th, 2024 at 12:14 IST