The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is a binding trade agreement that applies to all the signatory countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The GATS is highly controversial because of the unprecedented expansion of international trade rules into a sector that is highly regulated by both the federal and state governments. As a result, the GATS is unusual in that countries choose which service sectors to commit to the GATS most powerful rules of “market access” and “national treatment” through a “request-offer” process. In 1994, when the GATS was first signed, the United States offered to open up a range of service sectors, which are outlined in the U.S. Schedule of Specific Commitments.
The GATS provides for “built in” new rounds of negotiations to expand the controversial agreement’s scope and coverage. These progressive rounds of increased liberalization have the result of locking in privatization and deregulation. In 2000, a new round of GATS talks was launched and it is now part and parcel of the broader “Doha Round” of global trade talks. Although slated to conclude by the end of 2006, the talks have stalled numerous times. In this round of negotiations, the United States agreed to offer new services and remove some exemptions on existing commitments, which are listed in the U.S. Revised Services Offer.
- General Agreement on Trade in Services (Annex 1B of the “Final Act” of the Uruguay Round) (4/15/94)
- U.S. Schedule of Commitments (4/15/94)
- WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration (12/18/05)
- Public Citizen’s Annotated Version of the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration (12/18/05)
- U.S. Revised Services Offer (5/31/05)