Services Negotiators Plan ‘Endgame’ December Ministerial

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By Bryce Baschuk

Sept. 26 — Trade negotiators working to conclude a multi-trillion dollar services agreement made significant headway during this weekend's negotiations in Geneva and sketched out a plan to wrap up the deal in December.

“We just concluded a really good [Trade in Services Agreement] round,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Michael Punke told Bloomberg BNA in an interview at the World Trade Organization (WTO). He said the participants agreed to meet Dec. 5-6 to conclude the talks.

TiSA participants, who collectively represent 70 percent of the world's $44 trillion services marketplace, are working to update the 1994 WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) by increasing market access for more than a dozen services sectors among 23 negotiating parties.

“It's not a slam dunk — these things are never slam dunks — but there is a sense after this week that there is a real shift in mood to a real endgame push and there is an aggressive schedule laid out that allows us to do that,” Punke said.

Punke declined to offer specifics as to what shifted since the last negotiating round but said there is now “an awful lot of momentum” and “lots of wrangling” aimed at completing the deal in 2016.

$44 Trillion Market

Punke said the negotiations would ideally ensure fewer barriers and much greater certainty in the global services marketplace.

“Establishing 20th century trade rules for services for 70 percent of the globe's services economy is a big deal,” Punke said. “It's important not only for the countries involved in the negotiations but also for others that are looking for strong models for disciplines in services.”

“What traders depend on is the security of knowing that the rules are stable,” he said. “There are lots of places in services trade where markets are relatively open but they're not based on any rules or guarantees so you don't know as a trader if the rules can change. What TiSA has the potential to achieve is that certainty.”

Localization Talks Continue

Punke said TiSA negotiators held “good discussions” regarding the U.S. proposals to curb forced localization practices for protectionist purposes and promote unfettered data transmissions across international borders.

The EU has notably resisted U.S. overtures on the localization issue in light of European concerns about the protection of their citizen's personal data.

Brussels and Washington recently agreed to a new trans-Atlantic privacy pact, but the issue has continued to flummox EU TiSA negotiators who want to ensure U.S. companies like Alphabet Inc., Facebook Inc. or Microsoft Inc., abide by European privacy standards.

The U.S. is also working to extend TiSA's localization rules to the financial services sector in order to ensure U.S. companies like Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. aren't forced to store their data abroad or use local hardware and software products.

It's noteworthy that the European Services Forum—a Brussels-based industry group—recently advocated for TiSA negotiators to include a localization provision in the deal to reduce trade barriers in the digital era.

No Reduced Ambition

Punke clarified that negotiators aren't keen on reducing their overall ambition for TiSA and said he's optimistic the agreement will live up to the objectives they established more than three years ago.

Next month, TiSA participants will unveil their second revised market access offers—a development that will mark a key milestone in the three-year negotiations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Geneva at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at

For More Information

The European Services Forum statement is available at

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