Numerous studies, including the World Trade Report 2004 presented to the special session on Monday, make evident the large economic benefits to opening up our services markets. The case for liberalization is particularly strong with respect to services directly related to supporting the overall economic activity, such as telecommunications and computer services, transport services and financial services. Many members of this body have also taken advantage of the benefits of liberalization by autonomously liberalizing their services markets.
Unfortunately, the political will to liberalize has so far not been paralleled by a political will to table offers for binding commitments in this round of negotiations. Why should we commit ourselves under GATS and not limit ourselves to the benefits of autonomous liberalization? In our view, the benefits of making binding commitments are clear: They ensure predictability and transparency in the framework for trade in services, and thus stimulate trade and reduce the risk for both domestic and foreign service providers. We therefore think we all have a common interest in narrowing the gap by adjusting our GATS commitments to the actual situation in our services markets.
Norway considers the May deadline for revised offers as a milestone for assessing the effectiveness of the bilateral request/offer process after nearly three years of negotiations. By May, offers – whether they are revised or initial offers – must contain comprehensive sectoral coverage and high quality commitments in all modes of supply. It is not significant whether an offer is an initial or a revised offer. It is the quality of the offers on the table by May which must be assessed. We urge those members, which have still not tabled an initial offer to keep this in mind.
In order to succeed, it is particularly important that the major economies, including large developing countries, lead the way forward by tabling ambitious offers. Almost three years have passed since the deadline for tabling initial requests, and two since the deadline for initial offers. We have had time to consider and reconsider. Time has come to make some brave moves if we are to harvest a result in the services negotiations by the Hong Kong ministerial.
If the bilateral request/offer process does not produce significant progress in terms of high quality offers by May, we would have to embark on other ways to secure a result in the services negotiations. The urgency of making substantial progress in the services negotiations must be seen in the context of successfully concluding the Doha Development Agenda as a whole. Protracted services negotiations could further delay the conclusion of the DDA. Such a delay would be particularly detrimental to the interests of small economies and developing countries, which lack the negotiating muscle to keep up with the preferential treatment offered through regional or bilateral Free Trade Agreements.
We have had a large number of bilateral consultations over the last weeks. More and more frequently, we hear references to ongoing bilateral free trade negotiations as a justification for not tabling improved offers. We are concerned that this tendency increasingly would hamper the possibility of concluding our negotiations.
The success of our negotiations will depend on our ability to find an appropriate balance, reflecting the interests of all members. Such a balance would have to contain substantial commitments in core services sectors in all modes of supply. In the months ahead, we must work hard to reach a satisfactory level of ambition in our revised offers and to secure negotiating mandates that are sufficiently flexible to successfully conclude our negotiations on services.
Chair, you have left us all in no doubt as to what is at stake, in particular in your report at the last TNC. We strongly believe that we as members now need to follow your advice and face up to our responsibilities.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.