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Current Developments in U.S. Services Trade Policy

Services range from those in which the United States is most competitive and therefore a strong demandeur to others in which it is inefficient and highly protected.

An example of the former is telecommunications, as exemplified by the reciprocity provisions in the Telecommunications Trade Act. That law requires that the U.S. Trade Representative reach annual determinations on whether its partners are abiding by their commitments on telecommunications goods and services in various trade agreements. This topic is examined in depth in the April 9 WTR (Vol.28 No.12).

The best example of an inefficient, protected sector is maritime transportation. Under the Jones Act, for example, the cabotage trade is wholly reserved to ships that are built in the United States and are owned and crewed by U.S. citizens.

Trade in Services: Key Terms

The following are the most significant terms in the Dictionary of Trade Policy regarding trade in services and related topics:




Negative List

Central Product Classification


Commercial Presence

Positive List

Consumption Abroad

Presence of Natural Persons

Cross-Border Supply




Horizontal Commitment



:: GATS ::  Schedules and Negotiations :: The Doha Round

The core WTO agreement in this field is the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), together with WTO members' GATS schedules, and as supplemented by the protocols and other instruments listed below.

The following four protocols to the GATS have been adopted. Note that they start with the second; there is no "first protocol" to GATS.

See also the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce adopted in 2011.

GATS is further modified by the following instruments:


Reading GATS schedules is made more complicated by the fact there is no universally adopted equivalent to the Harmonized System of tariff nomenclature for goods. See nonetheless the Central Product Classification, to which many WTO members adhere (but not the United States).

See the reading on Commitments and Exceptions under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. The schedules of commitments of individual countries can be obtained in one of two forms on the WTO website. For the actual schedules, go to the Documents Search page and get them from the series GATS/SC/*, where the * is a number indicating the country in question.

Another difference between goods and services is that unlike goods negotiations, which readily lend themselves to formula approaches, bargaining on services is still conducted on the basis of request-offer negotiations. The requests that countries made in the Doha Round are considered to be confidential, but the offers generally are not. Offers can be found in the TN/S/O/* series, where the * is an abbreviation of the country (e.g., USA for the United States).

The evolution of the Doha Round negotiations on services can be seen in the following documents:

See also the U.S. negotiating objectives on services as stated in the Trade Act of 2002.