Negotiations are currently underway at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva aimed at expanding the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The original text of GATS was agreed in 1994, and the current GATS 2000 negotiations are part of the 'built-in agenda' which the WTO inherited on its formation in 1995.
GATS is a very broad agreement, dealing with every service imaginable. Its rules apply to all levels of government. The agreement is not only confined to cross-border trade, but covers other methods of service delivery, including the commercial presence of multinational companies inside the borders of WTO member states.
In their initial phase, from February 2000 onwards, the current negotiations focused on the development of a negotiating 'roadmap', finally agreed in March 2001. Negotiations have now entered the 'market access' phase, with countries beginning to make requests for other member countries to liberalise more of their services under GATS. At the time of writing, over 80 request proposals are on the table, the vast majority coming from powerful WTO players such as USA, the European Union and Canada.
These negotiations take place in the context of the EU's attempts to launch a new round of international trade negotiations - including services - at the WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Qatar in November 2001.