General Agreement on Trade in Services

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The General Agreement on Trade in Services ( english General Agreement on Trade in Services ; GATS ) is an international , multilateral trade agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the cross-border trade with services governs and its progressive liberalization aims.

“B) [GATS] includes all types of services in every sector with the exception of those services that are provided in the exercise of public authority.
c) [...] the term "service provided in the exercise of public authority" [means] any type of service that is neither provided for commercial purposes nor in competition with one or more service providers. "

- GATS Art. 1 Para. 3

The GATS applies to the following four types of cross-border trade in services ( modes ):

Mode 1 : Cross-border deliveries

The service is transferred from the home country of the provider to the consumer abroad (e.g. e-banking, if the service is transmitted to a foreign customer via the Internet or telephone, e-learning).

Mode 2 : Foreign consumption at home

The service is provided in the provider's home country for a foreign consumer (e.g. (foreign) tourism, visiting a dentist abroad, students from abroad).

Mode 3 : Commercial branches abroad

The service is provided in the consumer's home country through the branch of a foreign provider (e.g. direct investments or joint ventures abroad, language school of a foreign provider).

Mode 4 : Natural persons abroad

The service is provided in the consumer's home country by a foreign, natural person (e.g. personal advice from a foreign lawyer (in his home country) in Germany; harvest workers from abroad, native-speaking teaching staff at a language school).

Note: Only in modes 1 and 2, the provider of the service is not in the consumer's home country.


After the Second World War , there was a consensus among the industrialized countries that peaceful coexistence between nations should be promoted through economic ties. To this end, an international trade organization (ITO) was first drafted and the Charter of Havana , which u. a. Prosperity, peace, employment and fair social standards demanded, decided, but the entry into force of the US Congress failed. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was established in their place .

The GATT increasingly assumed the function of a multilateral framework for international trade. Eight rounds of the GATT took place up to 1994, during which the member states massively lowered their tariffs and dismantled non-tariff trade barriers.

The last round, the Uruguay Round , which took place from 1986 to 1994, also included services and intellectual property rights (patents and copyrights) in the agreement. The results of the Uruguay Round are the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights , "Agreement on the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights " , "TRIPs" and the GATS.

The GATS Agreement was signed at the end of the Uruguay Round and entered into force on January 1, 1995 ( GATS 1995 ). At the same time, it was decided at the time to revise the contract after five years.

The GATS has been renegotiated since the beginning of 2000 ( GATS 2000 ). The negotiations should be concluded by the end of the "New Round" (the new negotiation round agreed in Doha under certain conditions) in 2005 (see Doha Round ). However, the negotiations have not yet been concluded due to the differing views of the WTO members.

Most recently, in view of the global financial crisis , the world financial summit in Washington in November 2008 decided to accelerate the resumption of world trade talks.

Most Favored Nation Treatment and National Treatment

The main principles of the GATS include most-favored nation treatment and national treatment .

The principle of most favored nation treatment means that it is not possible to grant trade concessions to individual states, but that they must always be granted to all WTO states. There are some general exceptions to most-favored nation treatment for regional integration agreements, so that, for example, the EU does not have to grant trade advantages to third countries from its internal market .

The principle of national treatment obliges the member states to equate foreign providers with domestic ones. Government expenditure must also be available to private providers from abroad.

Country lists and GATS negotiations

In principle, the WTO member states can determine themselves which service areas they open to the market. In the so-called country lists , the individual states undertake which services they release or stipulate which restrictions there are with regard to market access and national treatment .

The opening of the individual service sectors happens step by step in several rounds and follows the pattern: "If you give me the education service , I will give you the transport service ". The liberalization of services is being negotiated in a large number of individual points - 12 sectors or 155 subsectors "times" the four different types of service provision ( modes ). The WTO is currently negotiating with the aim of liberalizing the restrictions in the country lists by 2005. Liberalization is to be pursued more intensively in every round. The Article XIX of the GATS specifically refers to an ongoing liberalization . Once liberalization commitments have been made, they can only be withdrawn if the trading partners who have been harmed receive compensation, e.g. B. in the form of and for the liberalization of other areas.

The GATS discussion

The central point of discussion is whether public services (health services, educational services, ...) are excluded by Article I: 3 or are covered by the GATS.

The Austrian Ministry of Economic Affairs, for example, argues that the Austrian social and pension insurance system is excluded from the GATS, as it concerns services that are subject to Article I: 3 lit. b of the GATS agreement are provided under state responsibility.

What critics say the Ministry of Economic Affairs regularly withholds is point c of this article. This provision states that services are the

"[Are provided in the exercise of sovereign authority, are only excluded from the GATS if these services] are neither provided for commercial purposes nor in competition with one or more service providers.]"

There is no consensus among WTO members or in the WTO Secretariat on the meaning of the term “provided in the exercise of state authority ”. The WTO Secretariat in particular seems to be pursuing different approaches, depending on the circumstances.

In a background paper on health and social services (S / C / W / 50), the Secretariat argues that in cases where private, commercial and public-benefit hospitals coexist , it is unrealistic to claim that there is no competitive situation . Consequently, while public hospitals are a public service, they are not exempt from the GATS .

In order to understand the meaning of Article I: 3 for the EU, the derogations from the "horizontal obligations" should be used. The EU has in the country lists to register the GATS that "services which are considered a national or local level as a public duties, subject to government monopolies or exclusive rights of private operators" to WTO (see 1994 schedule of specific commitments - German translation. of the European Communities and their Member States. GATS / SC / 31, April 15, Geneva. In: Bundesgesetzblatt. Part II, pp. 1678–1683). This therefore forms the basis for the restrictions on market access in the area of ​​public tasks.

Article VI: 4 is also discussed , where, among other things, a so-called necessity test is described. This should check whether state environmental or other requirements are trade-neutral and whether there could be other requirements that offer a greater incentive for foreign investors. This threatens the democratic room for maneuver, since the nation state has to prove that its conditions are the least possible.

The OECD suggests that services that are provided within the scope of state responsibility should be regarded as non-profit .


The demands of the EU as well as the offers to the EU have undesirably come to the public and have caused displeasure, since u. a. urges the US to privatize the education sector . The vast majority (94) of the 109 countries to whose addresses the EU has addressed its liberalization demands (so-called requests) are developing or emerging countries.

In Europe there is the "European Services Forum" (ESF), which was created by Sir Leon Brittan ( Trade Commissioner before Pascal Lamy ) in order to involve the European service groups in the GATS negotiations.

GATS and Austria

Austria joined the GATS in 1994 through a 4-party resolution in the National Council (see Federal Law Gazette 1/95).

A particularly strong group against GATS has formed in Austria - the following are involved: the Association of Municipalities , the Association of Cities , Caritas , Attac and ex- ÖVP Vice Chancellor Josef Riegler.

The trade union federation is also involved; This is the first time the ÖGB has worked with other supporting organizations. The former opponent Greenpeace , for example in the Hainburg power plant construction, became one of 80 alliance partners. The EU opened a so-called consultation process on the offers due to the citizens' protests: a survey of NGOs and sector associations was started; of thousands of inquiries, over 60% came from Austria. In order to address these concerns, the EU has now published a document in which information is given about the demands made on it.

The transport , health , education and audiovisual media are excluded after unofficial reports for Austria from the GATS, a review of compliance is due to the secret negotiations impossible. How long these exceptions will remain in place for the duration of the negotiations is also questionable, since this is exactly what is being negotiated.

The provinces and municipalities in Austria are also reporting criticism: Sepp Rieder , Vice- Mayor of Vienna , says that although it was first assured that the social partners would be involved, there are no concrete negotiations or information. He suggested that

  • the GATS rules of necessity test and proportionality test should not apply in the area of services of general interest
  • States and municipalities should also negotiate, the federal constitution would provide scope for this
  • Guarantees are given that the areas promised at the beginning of the negotiations will really remain excluded from the negotiations.

GATS criticism

The main criticisms are as follows:

  • Elementary services are at least partially privatized via public-private partnerships ( water as a commodity , natural gas supply, healthcare, education, hospitals, nursing homes). Privatization was often followed by wage cuts in the formerly state-owned companies.
  • In particular, the economization of education (including through tuition fees ) is criticized by students ( student protest ), but also by the UN education commissioner Vernor Muñoz .
  • In contrast to industrial lobby groups such as the ESF , the respective national parliament is not directly involved and informed in the negotiations, nor is civil society involved. The negotiations are secret and their results are written into agreements. One can expect irreversible contracts that were not subject to any political opinion-forming process.
  • The measures observed and criticized are no longer customs policy, but domestic regulations. This affects areas of state sovereignty and may be overridden by the GATS treaty. Rufus H. Yerxa (WTO Director General) says: The decisions are taken by the member states, the WTO office only carries out the decisions. Free trade is necessary for peaceful coexistence.
  • Critics do not see the security and stability of supply in terms of services of general interest as guaranteed beyond doubt by GATS .
  • In the context of so-called "mode 4", regular immigration, the end of which has not seldom been legal equality with nationals, could be replaced by precarious posting work , in which the burdens and risks mainly come from posting workers who are only permitted for a limited period even, the domestic workers possibly replaced by them and the societies of the countries of origin. These risks consist mainly in the drain of talent , in the full risk of old age, illness and disability and in the costs for initial and advanced training as well as in the care of family members of the seconded workers. In this way, wealthy societies succeed in avoiding otherwise necessary immigration and sustainable management of their labor resources and in externalizing the costs of providing qualified labor . In the context of posting work, foreign workers could be denied the same rights with nationals in the long term through frequent exchanges of persons. It arises as a new apartheid or new helots class .
  • In addition to banks and insurance companies , large water suppliers ( Veolia , Suez Environnement , RWE ), energy , education and health groups, such as private hospital groups, were among the likely winners of the GATS.


The GATS (especially mode 3 ) is based on the Multilateral Investment Agreement (MAI) which failed at the WTO summit (1999) in Seattle . In this context, the MAI intends to enable corporations to make claims for damages against governments in whose country there is a strike or in which higher labor or environmental protection laws come into force. The compensation for the group should be based on the profit reduction that the group suffered as a result of the measures.

See also


  • Werner Welf: The WTO Financial Services Agreement. Oldenbourg, Munich 1999.
  • Norbert Wimmer , Thomas Müller: Business Law. International - European - National. 1st edition. Springer, Vienna / New York 2007, ISBN 978-3-211-34037-0 .
  • Rolf Adlung: Turning hills into mountains? Current commitments under the GATS and prospects for change. WTO staff working papers ERSD-2005-01, WTO, Geneva 2005. (Download: WTO | Research and Analysis - working paper - Turning hills into mountains? )
  • Ralf Kronberger, Yvonne Wolfmayr: Liberalization of the trade in services within the framework of the GATS. In: Wifo monthly reports. Austrian Institute for Economic Research, Vienna 6/2005, pp. 443–463.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ( Memento from December 16, 2004 in the Internet Archive )
  2. GATS requests and offers. on:
  3. EU draftoffer ( Memento of November 5, 2004 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF)
  4. Trade in services: EU launches public consultation on requests for access to the EU market. ( Memento of June 6, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) IP / 02/1652. Brussels, November 12, 2002 (PDF; 24 kB)