THE BARRIERS Domestic regulations include qualification and licensing requirements, technical standards.

India led seven countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in objecting to some nations trying to bring in rules to erect barriers to services trade and cross-border movement of professionals through qualification and licensing requirements, and technical standards.

India teamed up with South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Zimbabwe on Tuesday and raised objections to disciplines being built around requirements such as recognition of professional qualifications and professional bodies, among other requirements called domestic regulations in trade parlance. Ecuador and Venezuela joined in expressing their concern.

Arguing that the joint initiative of the 59 members of the WTO was “not mandated to and cannot assume the role of making disciplines”, they said that some members were trying to “establish a competing and parallel mechanism to pursue and achieve the same objectives, without the consent of the entire membership”.

The European Union, China, Australia, Japan, Korea and Russia are part of the joint initiative, which has proposed rules for services suppliers including those related to gender and seeks to encourage recognition dialogue between the professional bodies of “relevant” WTO members.

“These members said that a clear multilateral pathway is already in place, even though those negotiations have not concluded due to disagreement about whether the disciplines are necessary or what parts of the disciplines are necessary,” said an official. The move assumes significance in the wake of the US, the EU, Canada and Australia erecting barriers through domestic regulation conditions to deny market access to short-term services providers from India under the Mode 4 of General Agreement on Trade in Services. Mode 4 or movement of natural persons is one of the four ways through which services can be supplied internationally. It includes movement of natural persons such as independent professionals and is of key interest to India

Questioning the competence of the joint initiative, the group of opposing countries said the Working Party on Domestic Regulation (WPDR) was established in 1999 precisely to put in place those disciplines.

India said that the proposal does not include “any of the commercially significant disciplines in the area of Mode 4 and more specifically on qualification requirements and procedures, all of which were integral part of the earlier work done in the WPDR”.

A group of 35 WTO members had formed a plurilateral on services domestic regulation at the last ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in 2017 and is trying to get specific commitments at the next ministerial conference in Kazakhstan next year. “These rules and the way they are being sought to be put in place, are against the multilateral rules based system and will tie the hands of developing countries, most of which are service economies,” said a Delhi-based expert.