WTO chief lauds India’s proposal on services

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on January 12, 2018

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo will meet Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday. - REUTERS

But says progress depends on member countries’ keenness to compromise

India’s initiative to push through an agreement on trade facilitation in services at the World Trade Organisation is an excellent move, but progress will depend on member countries’ willingness to compromise, said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo.

“How much progress we can make on the proposal to facilitate trade in services by Buenos Aires (Ministerial Meeting in December) depends on the level of engagement shown by members and their willingness to compromise. It is an ambitious and comprehensive approach that deserves full attention and consideration by the membership,” Azevedo told BusinessLine.

India floated a concept note on trade facilitation in services in November proposing measures such as clarity in work permits and visas, simplification in rules of temporary stay, rationalisation of taxes, fees and charges and sorting out social security contribution issues for short-term workers, among others.

‘Excellent initiative’

“I welcome it – it is an excellent initiative. It builds on the pillars of the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) for goods, which are transparency and streamlining regulations and documentation requirements. India introduced an elements paper in November which was well received. I am sure we will see a formal proposal in the future,” Azevedo said.

The DG’s note of caution on the need for members to compromise has merit as the US has already started questioning the relevance of the pact while some members have questioned India on the implications on members’ domestic regulations, and the expected benefits for developing and developed members. Some, like Canada, have said that the proposal touched upon sensitive issues, such as “public education and health services”.

“There are many WTO members who have appreciated the concept as its implementation will increase transparency, reduce costs and facilitate cross-border flows of services.

“We are sure our formal proposal will generate enough support,” a Commerce Ministry official said.

India’s proposal on trade facilitation in services is expected to be high on Commerce & Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s agenda in her meeting with the DG on Thursday. The two are expected to discuss issues that could be taken up at the next Ministerial Meeting in Buenos Aires at the end of this year.

The TFA on goods was adopted by members in 2014 and contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit.

It also sets out measures for effective cooperation between customs and other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues. It contains provisions for technical assistance and capacity building in this area.

Published on February 08, 2017

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