The 11th round of negotiations towards the trade in services (TiSA) agreement among a subset of World Trade Organization (WTO) members has begun on Saturday. Our Geneva correspondent Ravi Kanth explains where the negotiations stand and what will be at stake this week. A clear asymmetry of demands between members is appearing, and the EU and Turkey are at loggerheads over healthcare.
While there is no consensus yet for admitting China into the trade in services agreement (TISA), decks were cleared for Uruguay to join as the 24th member of the plurilateral group that commenceed a new round of US-hosted discussions on Saturday.
The US and Japan continue to have reservations about China’s entry into the TISA negotiations. But the European Union (EU) and a large majority of members are open to Beijing’s participation.
Members of the TISA now include Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, Pakistan, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
Market access and regulatory disciplines
Technical experts and negotiators will begin their eleventh round of discussions on market access and regulatory disciplines concerning localisation requirements, maritime, air transport, delivery services, domestic regulation, e-commerce, telecommunications, financial services, professional services and short-term movement of services providers.
Although TISA members had made considerable progress on finalising provisions of the deal, there are several grey areas. The relationship between the level of ambition in market access – in other words trade liberalisation – and the regulatory provisions setting disciplines for domestic rule-making is yet unclear. So is the overall direction of market access negotiations where there is considerable asymmetry, sources said.
The US, for example, wants high level of ambition in financial, telecom, e-commerce, and distribution and delivery services. But Washington remains indifferent to market access in maritime transport, air transport, ‘Mode 4’ – concerning the movement of short term services providers – and even domestic regulation. All these latter areas are key requests many TiSA members made on the US.
Two parties to the TiSA talks, Pakistan and Paraguay, are yet to submit their initial offers to their partners. So far, only 21 members- Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, and the US- had circulated their initial offers.
EU Turkey healthcare spat
In a leaked document, Turkey’s proposal to liberalise trade in health services in TISA which will figure in this week’s meetings has provoked sharp response from the EU.
Ankara has argued that there are numerous benefits from liberalising trade in the health services sector, which remains heavily protected by major industrialised countries. “We think that establishing a system within TiSA in order to facilitatre patient mobility via health insurance portability would be a real value-added,” Ankara maintained.
Turkey also proposed a potential annex on healthcare services while acknowledging that health is a public good. “Trade objectives in the health sector should be compatible with other legitimate social objectives like universal access … Regulation of the health sector is necessary to protect patients against malpractices of their personal data.”
But the EU trade commissioner Ms Cecilia Malmström has dismissed the Turkish proposal on the portability of health insurance. “I want to stress in unequivocal terms that under no circumstances, I would ever propose a trade agreement that contained provisions on portability of health insurance.
I do not consider this to be a trade issue and the Commission will not compromise the high level of quality of our public health services in a trade agreement. ”
A TiSA negotiator attacked the EU’s approach on the health services saying Brussels wants liberalisation only in sectors where it has material interests and comparative advantage but not in areas where other members want reform.
Agenda of meetings
The agenda for the meeting beginning on Saturday included bilateral discussions on the initial market access offers for the first two and half days, until Monday (today, 9 February 2015 ) noon.
After the market access discussions, participants will begin discussions on disciplines concerning localisation and transparency. Several members, including the US, had submitted proposals on transparency.
On Tuesday, 10 February, TISA technical experts and negotiators will take up maritime transport, air transport, delivery services, and domestic regulation. The US is major demandeur in delivery services but is reluctant to open up its maritime transport and air transport services. Several members – Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong among others – want an ambitious result on the issue of domestic regulations which continue to undermine market access in trade in services.
TISA members will move to road transport, healthcare, and telecommunications on Wednesday. Turkey wants an ambitious outcome in removing the barriers in road transport and health care services. Three areas – Mode 4 (temporary movement of professionals), procurement, and financial services – will dominate the discussion on Thursday 12 February, followed by professional services and financial services on Friday.
In case you’ve missed it: read up on the position on TiSA of Viviane Reding , the European parliament’s rapporteur on the deal, which we covered in January.