Services Trade Liberalisation and Regulation: New Developments and Old Problems
In his foreword to a recent publication on trade in services, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Pascal Lamy, claims: “Gone are the days when services used to be considered non-tradables”.1 Indeed, creating a consensus among trade policy officials, business leaders and academic commentators that services can be traded across borders was a major step for the development of the multilateral trading system. However, the ensuing problems that followed from this consensus are at least as challenging. Considering services as tradables gives rise to a number of fundamental questions about the proper framework and legal rules for the liberalisation and regulation of such trade. It is therefore not surprising that trade in services moved to the centre of attention of political and academic discourses about the international trading system in recent years. As a result of the increased interest in trade in services, the challenges and difficulties associated with this concept became apparent. While early assessments of the inclusion of services in the multilateral trading system were often shaped by generally optimistic assumptions about the over-all positive effects of services trade liberalisation on the one side and unsubstantiated claims that the GATS would force governments to privatisation and deregulation on the other side, the debate is more balanced now. Most commentators – political and academic ones alike – recognise the complexity of the issues involved. In fact: Gone are the days when the liberalisation of trade in services used to be subject to simplistic assumptions and claims.