Summary: The benefits of services trade reform are huge but services negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO) are making little progress. A proximate cause is the current negotiating process, based on an inertial request-and-offer approach rather than a set of goals that would give direction and momentum to the negotiations. The paper suggests that WTO members should consider: (1) locking in the current openness of cross-border trade for a wide range of services; (2) eliminating barriers to foreign investment either immediately or in a phased manner where regulatory inadequacies need to be remedied; and (3) allowing greater freedom of international movement at least for intra-corporate transferees and for service providers to fulfill specific services contracts. A deeper problem is that WTO members have sought to negotiate market access in services without adequately addressing concerns that the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) commitments limit regulatory freedom unduly and unpredictably, that regulatory institutions in many countries are too weak to cope with liberalized markets, and that there is no provision for the regulatory cooperation that is necessary for successful liberalization, particularly of temporary labor mobility. Three types of actions are needed: (1) at the current stage of its development, the GATS must focus primarily on disciplines for measures that discriminate against foreign services and providers, rather than on politically sensitive and legally complex rules for nondiscriminatory measures; (2) a credible assistance mechanism must be established to help developing countries make the regulatory improvements needed for successful liberalization; and (3) where necessary, WTO members should make access commitments on labor mobility conditional on the fulfillment of specific conditions by source countries-to screen services providers, accept and facilitate their return, and combat illegal migration.
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