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Ambassador Punke Updates Group on Trade in Services Agreement Negotiations

By Megan Thompson, Office of Public and Media Affairs

Earlier today, U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Deputy United States Trade Representative Michael Punke delivered remarks at the National Press Club at an event hosted by the Global Business Dialogue, Inc. and the Coalition of Services Industries (CSI) entitled TISA – The Services Frontier. Ambassador Punke’s remarks focused on the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), a plurilateral agreement currently being negotiated in Geneva.

The services industry is the world’s largest employer, and global services trade has nearly doubled during the last decade. Trade barriers, discrimination, and murky trade rules, however, have prevented services trade from reaching its full potential. The TISA aims to improve and expand worldwide services trade through negotiations among 48 of the 159 WTO Members currently participating, including all European Union member states. 

Though WTO Members have a long history of negotiating plurilateral agreements, just a year ago the notion of having a plurilateral services discussion was condemned by some Members on the floor of the WTO. But “whatever we might think of plurilateral agreements, they are part of the terrain,” Ambassador Punke said, while pointing out that all nine candidates competing for the position of WTO Director General spoke positively of the TISA initiative. 

After Ambassador Punke spoke, various panel members representing different sectors of the services trade industry shared their own thoughts on TISA. UPS representative Dontai Smalls was among these panel members; he noted that state-owned or state sponsored enterprises can create market distortions as a result of unevenly applied regulations or direct or implicit subsidies. “The government should ensure that there is a level playing field for companies,” Smalls said. 

Verizon’s Jackie Ruff also noted some of the benefits a successful TISA could provide for the telecommunications industry. “Small and medium-sized enterprises can benefit more proportionally from being able to reach the potential of services,” Ruff said. “To help these and other service suppliers access global markets more easily we need to focus on restrictions that eviscerate the notion of a cloud of information.” 

Yancy Molnar of ACE Insurance spoke about the need to address restrictions on data flows, which can adversely affect all service suppliers and limit consumer options, noting that “data is the oil of the 21st Century.” 

The next round of TISA discussions will begin on June 24 in Geneva.