During the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations which resulted in the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Canada and other negotiating partners recognized the need for a comprehensive set of rules governing trade in services. The set of rules for trade in services that resulted from these negotiations is embodied in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
WTO Members agreed at the end of the Uruguay Round to subsequent rounds of negotiations aimed at progressive liberalization of trade in services. Accordingly, the current GATS negotiations began in January 2000.
The November 2001 Ministerial Conference in Doha set in motion the market access phase of the GATS negotiations and mandated that “participants shall submit initial requests for specific commitments by June 30, 2002 and initial offers by March 31, 2003.” In view of these deadlines, Canada and other WTO Members have submitted initial requests in 2002 and submitted initial offers at the end of March 2003.
Subsequent to the exchange of initial requests and initial offers, WTO Members agreed to submit revised market access offers by May 31, 2005. In accordance with this declaration, Canada submitted its revised offer on May 18, 2005.
Each country's offer takes into account the basic negotiating parameters that the country has set for itself, as well as the various bilateral requests it has received from other members. For example, in Canada, these basic parameters make clear that health, public education, social services and culture are not negotiable. These offers and all subsequent offers are conditional on the overall level of liberalization produced at the end of the negotiations.
At the end of the negotiation process, the results of the bilateral request-offer negotiations will be made available on a "most favoured nation" basis (i.e. made available to all WTO countries). In this way, all member countries benefit from the bilateral negotiations, regardless of whether they negotiated market access commitments bilaterally or not.
Ministers from WTO Member countries met in Hong Kong, China, December 13 - 18, 2005 for the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference. One of the key outcomes of the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting was an agreement among Ministers to embark upon a plurilateral request-offer negotiating process as a means of advancing the services negotiations. The purpose of this plurilateral process is to complement, not replace, the bilateral request and offer process that has been employed since the launch of the market access phase of negotiations on services in 2002. ARCHIVED - Canada is an active participant in plurilateral requests in a number of sectors.
As part of these negotiations, WTO Members are also negotiating possible rules for issues such as emergency safeguard measures, subsidies, government procurement, and "domestic regulation" (i.e. the development of disciplines relating to qualification requirements and procedures, licensing requirements and qualifications, and technical standards).