Trade in services negotiations move up a gear

The current negotiations to maintain open markets for trade in services within the SADC region seem to have moved up a gear within the last month, although progress remains uneven and, overall, still behind schedule.

At the 20th Trade Negotiations Forum for Trade in Services (TNF 20-Services) held in Johannesburg on November 19-22, 2013, Botswana and Democratic Republic of Congo presented new offers of services commitments, while Seychelles tabled a revised offer, the first country to offer improvements. This brought to 6 the number of Member States that have now tabled offers (the others being Malawi, Mauritius and Swaziland).

Member States adopted a new road map for the period to April 2015, when the current round of negotiations is due to end. This foresees an enhanced schedule of TNF meetings, which will now meet quarterly with rounds of negotiations taking on a sectoral focus in order to deepen negotiations in individual sectors and facilitate the participation of relevant regulatory officials.

An intensive round of bilateral negotiations – in which countries meet on a one-to-one basis to discuss the requests they have made and the offers that have been submitted to all SADC Member States – resulted in the first really detailed engagement. All Member States were involved in at least one bilateral, and some had very extensive schedules of meetings. Most Member States reported positively on the bilaterals they had held.

This positive note was not, however, universal. Some Member States have yet to engage in the process and are far behind the road map agreed for the first 18 months of negotiations. Member States that have made progress viewed this very seriously and called upon those that had not tabled offers to do so as soon as possible. To assist in the process, the Secretariat offered once again to support national stakeholder consultations.

So far, negotiations have focused on four priority sectors – communication, financial, tourism and transport services – as agreed in the road map.

Guidance for preparation of offers in energy-related services was provided in a sector forum held on November 18, 2013; that highlighted the uneven distribution of energy resources in the region and the import needs of those countries that do not have their own.

The forum considered a draft study that explained the difficulties of classifying energy-related services, given the lack of a basis in the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) on which commitments within SADC are based, and proposed a checklist approach which Member States supported.

20th TNF-Services was also preceded by a sector forum on tourism services. A second study presented at the forum compared the commitments made by SADC Member States in the context of the World Trade organisation (WTO), which largely painted a picture of open markets for trade in tourism services (hotels, restaurants, tour operators and tour guides), with the real situation on the ground in Member States, where regulatory restrictions seemed to abound.

Speaking at a recent [Commonwealth Secretariat/ Crown Agents] workshop in Gaborone, the new Deputy Executive Secretary – Regional Integration, Dr Thembinkosi Mhlongo, noted his view trade in services could contribute faster progress towards regional integration than focusing on traditional trade.

The next TNF-Services will meet in March 2014.

Published On: November 19, 2013|