WTO members recently engaged in discussions encompassing various trade-related topics and the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on trade in health services. These events were organized under the Council for Trade in Services.
Impact of COVID-19 on Health Services In an experience-sharing session on October 4, WTO members explored the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on health-related services. The pandemic resulted in severe pressure on health services traded through different modes, notably "mode 2" (consumers or firms utilizing services in another country) and "mode 4" (individuals traveling abroad to provide services). Globally, these forms of trading services saw a decline of 58% and 39%, respectively, between 2019 and 2020. Conversely, health-related services traded under "mode 1" (services supplied from one country to another) grew by 14% in 2020. Health-related services had been experiencing substantial growth even before the pandemic, with an annual average increase of 7%. The session underscored the challenges faced during the pandemic, including shortages of essential workers, digital infrastructure limitations, and data connectivity issues. It emphasized the need for better pandemic preparedness, regulatory frameworks supporting health solutions, and investments in health-related services.
Improving LDCs' Service Exports Data On October 5, WTO members participated in a workshop focused on enhancing the data on service exports in least-developed countries (LDCs). Despite a recovery in services trade in 2022, LDCs still faced challenges. Their services exports grew by 27% in 2022 but remained 14% below 2019 levels. Challenges included the high cost of surveys, difficulties in capturing services data, lack of awareness of services-related terms, and different definitions used by compilers and negotiators. Possible solutions discussed included digitalizing surveys, raising private sector awareness of trade in services statistics, establishing robust IT systems for data validation, and enhancing cooperation among agencies. Representatives from international organizations also discussed ways to improve service exports data in LDCs.
Implementing MC12 Mandates in the Council meeting, discussions covered the implementation of mandates from the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), including the LDC Services Waiver, e-commerce, and enhancing the functioning of services bodies in the WTO. The LDC Group emphasized the importance of implementing the MC12 Outcome Document's paragraph 8, which focuses on reviewing and promoting the operationalization of the waiver. Currently, 51 members have notified preferences for LDC services and service suppliers under the Services Waiver, with 36 WTO members classified as LDCs.
WTO Reform the Council also addressed suggestions on improving the functioning of services bodies in the WTO, with the United Kingdom proposing an e-Agenda and promoting substantive deliberations on trade in services issues. The goal is to revitalize discussions on services in an inclusive manner and maximize efficiency.
Pandemic Response, E-commerce, and Exemptions The discussions encompassed various topics, including pandemic response, e-commerce, exemptions to the Most-Favored Nation (MFN) principle, and specific trade concerns related to cybersecurity and 5G measures. Some members stressed the importance of eventually reducing existing exemptions.
In summary, WTO members engaged in constructive dialogues addressing a range of trade-related matters, with a focus on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic's impact and improving data on service exports, particularly in LDCs. Additionally, discussions on WTO reform and trade concerns related to cybersecurity and 5G measures were part of the agenda.