General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)

Canada working with other WTO Members to develop plurilateral services market access requests (April 2006)

Towards a Plurilateral Request-Offer Process

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 commence 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.

The plurilateral request-offer process will lead to enhanced efficiency in the services negotiations. A plurilateral request-offer process will enable WTO Members to identify areas of common interest in the negotiations and to pursue progress in these areas collectively. This will greatly enhance the manageability of the request-offer negotiating process for all WTO members.

As with the bilateral request-offer process, any market access commitments secured through a plurilateral negotiating approach will be extended to all members on a most-favoured nation (MFN) basis. This will ensure that the benefits of liberalization are extended to all WTO members.

As WTO Members embark upon plurilateral request-offer negotiations, all of the current flexibilities of the GATS will continue to apply. WTO Members will still maintain the flexibility to decide for themselves in which sectors they will undertake commitments and whether to maintain or remove barriers which may exist in these sectors.

The GATS provides additional flexibility to individual developing country Members, such as the ability to open fewer sectors, liberalize fewer types of transactions, and progressively extend market access in line with their development situation. Developing countries will continue to benefit from this additional flexibility in the plurilateral request-offer negotiations. Plurilateral requests will not be made to Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) in the negotiations.

Canada's Participation in the Submission of Plurilateral Requests

Canada is participating as a co-sponsor in a total of nine plurilateral requests in a number of sectors of key export interest to Canada.

  • financial services;
  • telecommunications services;
  • computer and related services;
  • environmental services;
  • energy services;
  • construction services;
  • architectural, engineering and integrated engineering services;
  • legal services, and;
  • maritime transport services.

In 2002, Canada submitted initial bilateral requests for improved market access to over 60 key WTO trading partners. Canada's participation in plurilateral requests in the above mentioned sectors will enable Canada to pursue many of our previous bilateral requests on a collective basis as well.

A summary of the plurilateral requests Canada is co-sponsoring is provided below.

Financial Services

  • Financial services liberalisation is important to strengthening the global financial system and economy, and a vital structural component to the development and growth of emerging economies.

  • The financial services plurilateral request seeks improved offers in priority markets and sub-sectors, in terms of cross-border trade and forms of establishment, as a means of making further progress in the current Doha Development Round financial services negotiations.
  • Canada has one of the most open financial sectors in the world. The financial services plurilateral request will contribute to Canada's objectives and priorities of expanding and strengthening market access and national treatment commitments, achieving further reductions in barriers to trade in financial services and seeking greater transparency disciplines for financial sector regulation.

Telecommunications Services

  • Telecommunications services are important economic drivers, both in their own right, as well as by enabling further trade and development. Canada recognizes telecommunications as a vital infrastructure service and is requesting strong and effective commitments for all telecommunications services.
  • In particular, Canada is seeking coverage of commercially meaningful subsectors including voice and data transmission services, leased circuit services and value added services.
  • Priority regional markets include South America and Asia.

Computer and Related Services

  • The computer and related services sector is considered one of the central driving forces in the development of a knowledge-based economy. As a fundamental sector for economic activity, Canada is seeking effective liberalization in all sub-sectors.
  • Priority regional markets include South America, Asia and the Middle East.

Environmental Services

  • Through the plurilateral request for environmental services, Canada will be seeking improved market access for Canadian environmental service providers in areas such as sewage services, refuse disposal services, sanitation and similar services, cleaning services of exhaust gases, noise abatement services, nature and landscape protection services and other environmental protection services such as acid rain monitoring, controlling and damage assessment services. No commitments are being sought for water collection, purification or distribution services.
  • Canada is placing special emphasis on the improvement of commitments for commercial presence (Mode 3) and cross-border supply (Mode 1) for the full range of environmental services within the sector. Finally, Canada is also seeking improved access with respect to entry and stay (Mode 4) for certain kinds of professionals who often play an important role in the environmental services sector.
  • Priority markets for Canada include Central and South America, Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Energy services

  • Through the collective request process, Canada is seeking improved market access for service providers in areas such as engineering services, management consulting services, services rendered on oil and gas field, exploration services and technical testing and analysis.
  • In the context of this request, Canada is placing special emphasis on substantial reduction of market access limitations for cross-border delivery of energy related services, as well as removal or elimination of economics needs tests, the elimination of discriminatory licensing procedures as well as requesting commitments for temporary entry of professionals, specialists and intra-corporate transferees.

Construction Services

  • Through the plurilateral request for construction services, Canada is seeking improved market access for Canadian construction companies seeking to do business abroad through the setting up of a commercial presence (Mode 3) or when consuming services while abroad (Mode 2). Through the plurilateral process, Canada is also seeking improved market access for engineering, architectural and integrated engineering services, as these services are vital to construction companies wishing to do business abroad.
  • Priority regional markets include the Middle East, South America, Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

Architectural, Engineering and Integrated Engineering Services

  • As one of Canada's most export-oriented services industries, Canada is seeking a high level of liberalization for architectural, engineering and integrated engineering services. Canada is the coordinator for a plurilateral request in this sector.
  • Canada is seeking comprehensive commitments for architectural, engineering and integrated engineering services, which include removal of restrictions such as commercial presence requirements, nationality/citizenship requirements, restrictions limiting types of legal entity with a particular emphasis on discriminatory restrictions, and restrictions which limit participation of foreign capital. Canada is also seeking commitments which facilitate the temporary entry and stay of architects and engineers.
  • Key markets of interest include the Middle East, Central and South America, Asia and Southeast Asia which include several key new and emerging markets.

Legal Services

  • Canada's participation in the plurilateral request for legal services is aimed at creating new opportunities for Canadian legal services providers in a variety of foreign markets, particularly in the practice of foreign and international law.
  • Canada is seeking elimination or reduction of barriers such as commercial presence and nationality requirements; foreign investment restrictions; and prohibitions or limitations on the establishment of foreign law firms, including limitations on establishing direct branches and discriminatory limitations on the types of legal entity allowed for the commercial presence of foreign law firms. Canada is also seeking commitments which facilitate the temporary entry and stay of foreign legal consultants.
  • Key markets of interest include South America, Asia and Southeast Asia which include several key new and emerging markets.

Maritime Transport Services

  • Through the plurilateral request for maritime transport services, Canada will be looking to secure market access for Canadian service providers in international maritime transport (freight and passenger), and maritime auxiliary services (e.g. cargo-handling, storage and warehousing, etc.), as well as non-discriminatory access to and use of port and onward services.
  • The request will be asking for new or improved commitments with a specific emphasis on the elimination of the following restrictions: cargo reservation, foreign equity participation limitations, restrictions on right to establish a commercial presence, nationality requirements of board members and the elimination of any other preferential treatment. No commitments are being sought on domestic maritime transport (cabotage).

Canada as a “Deemed Recipient”

A WTO Member that participates as a co-sponsor in a plurilateral request that contains elements which go beyond its current GATS commitments is considered to be a “deemed recipient” of the request. This means that they will need to give due consideration to the request and to further liberalization of their own domestic services regime.

Canada is co-sponsoring several requests which go beyond our current level of liberalization, which include, for example: energy services, construction & related engineering services, telecommunications, legal services, and architectural, engineering & integrated engineering services.

While we do not currently meet all aspects of these requests, our participation as a co-sponsor enables Canada to pursue its offensive interests in the context of plurilateral negotiations. The “deemed recipient” approach is considered to be an important part of ensuring the legitimacy and overall level of ambition for the plurilateral request process, and ensures that the process does not result in the “lowest common denominator” given the varying domestic objectives of the co-sponsors.

Our participation in such requests, however, is without prejudice to any negotiating outcome, and will be understood to be within the context of the availability of all existing GATS negotiating flexibilities.

Requests that Canada has Received

Canada has also been the recipient of some plurilateral requests. As has been the case with the requests Canada has received on a bilateral basis, Canada will give due consideration to any plurilateral requests it receives. Regardless of any plurilateral requests Canada may receive, however, we will still maintain the flexibility to decide for ourselves whether, when and how to best liberalize our services markets.

Canada’s position on key domestic objectives has not and will not change. We will not take commitments for health, public education, or social services. Canada will also not take any commitments that restrict its ability to achieve cultural policy objectives.

Requests have been received in the following sectors:

  • agricultural services
  • air transport services
  • audiovisual services
  • services provided through commercial presence
  • cross-border supply of services
  • distribution services
  • logistics services
  • most-favoured nation exemptions
  • postal/courier services
  • temporary movement of natural persons

Other Plurilateral Requests

The following are plurilateral requests currently being negotiated at the WTO of which Canada is neither a co-sponsor, nor a recipient:

  • education