At a meeting of the Council for Trade in Services (CTS) on 7 December, WTO members agreed to hold a dedicated meeting in the second or third quarter of 2019 to review how WTO members are making use of the Services Waiver that allows them to grant more favourable treatment to service suppliers in least developed countries (LDCs). The CTS chair, Ambassador Alfredo Suescum of Panama, will hold informal consultations in early 2019 to discuss how the dedicated session might unfold and agree on a specific date.

Recalling the Nairobi Waiver Decision, LDCs invited members to seize this opportunity to engage in an information sharing exercise, including on how to build awareness of how LDCs benefit from the waiver and how to increase access to LDC suppliers of services. LDCs underlined the importance of carrying out an information sharing exercise which will allow them to showcase their experiences as beneficiaries, and stressed that the dedicated discussion will not in any case replace the standing item on the CTS agenda with respect to the LDC Services Waiver.
Many of the WTO members providing preferential treatment to LDC services suppliers stressed the need for the discussion to take a broad approach, extending beyond the preferences permitted under the waiver. They said that the exchange of information should cover the full scope of trade opportunities available to LDC service suppliers. Moreover, they called for the information sharing to be flexible and in no way compulsory, based on a balanced engagement from all members, including the LDCs.
Other matters
The United States reiterated its concerns in relation to existing and proposed cybersecurity measures by China as they would allegedly restrict cross-border transfers of information and require the localization of data in China. According to the US, China’s proposed legal approach to cybersecurity requires a burdensome security assessment for transfers of any data Chinese government officials consider to be "important data". This would almost imply explicit consent by the owner of the information before any cross-border transfer can take place, said the United States.
The US pointed out the provision in China's cybersecurity framework that any "important data" or "personal information" that operators of critical information infrastructure collect or generate in China must be stored in China. All these elements combined could disrupt, deter and, in many cases, prohibit cross-border transfers of information in the ordinary course of business, according to the US. Japan, the European Union, New Zealand, Canada and Chinese Taipei echoed these concerns.
China noted that it had already supplied detailed answers in the last CTS meeting in October. However, it took the floor to state that the implementing measures of the Cybersecurity Law are still being drafted while the Chinese authorities receive suggestions from various interested parties with a view to designing their policies on this matter in a more scientific and reasonable manner and creating an orderly market environment for both domestic and foreign enterprises.
After stressing that ensuring cybersecurity was a difficult challenge that all members face, China underlined that enhanced cybersecurity measures are essential for protecting national security, public interest and the rights of citizens, legal persons and other organizations, and that these measures are in line with relevant WTO rules.
The United States and Japan also reiterated their concerns with regard to existing and proposed cybersecurity measures by Viet Nam. They underlined that service suppliers in data-intensive sectors depend on cross-border data flows and often rely on data centres that cannot economically be replicated in every market they serve; as such, they should not be subject to data localization and local presence requirements. These delegations' concerns were shared by the European Union, New Zealand, Canada and Chinese Taipei.
The Vietnamese delegate noted that the National Assembly had carefully considered all comments before passing the law at issue, which had been adopted in pursuit of the legitimate policy objective of ensuring cybersecurity and in strict adherence to Viet Nam's WTO obligations. Relevant implementing regulations were being drafted in an open and transparent manner, and had been already revised in light of the concerns raised, Viet Nam said.
Working Party on Domestic Regulation
The CTS was preceded by a meeting of the Working Party on Domestic Regulation (WPDR) on 5 December 2018, where members discussed a proposal by India to develop regulatory disciplines on measures relating to the temporary entry of natural persons, also known as "mode 4".
The proposal includes making measures relating to licensing, qualification and technical standards affecting mode 4 trade more transparent and facilitative. To this end, the proposal suggests enhanced publication requirements, streamlined procedures for licensing and qualifications, and adequate procedures to ensure that natural persons who are qualified outside a member's territory are permitted to supply services to another member.
Many members highlighted the importance of easing access to markets through mode 4 to create meaningful commercial opportunities in services. In particular, developing countries emphasized that reducing trade barriers created by such measures would help them use trade to better meet their development objectives. In addition, they underlined the need for special and differential provisions for developing members. These include, for example, adequate transitional periods, reduced administrative fees and technical assistance for services suppliers from developing countries.
In addition, Korea reported the adoption of non-binding disciplines on domestic regulation at a meeting of APEC ministers in Papua New Guinea held in November 2018.
Source: World Trade Organization