Research Handbooks on the WTO series
Edited by Pierre Sauvé and Martin Roy
Chapter 1: Charting the evolving landscape of services trade policies: Recent patterns of protection and liberalization
While greater focus has been cast on analysis of policy changes affecting trade in goods in the aftermath of the financial crisis, little is known about the direction of policies affecting trade in services. On the basis of information contained in the I-TIP Services database, this chapter provides an overview of the evolution of services trade policies since 2000, where policy changes – whether towards more liberalization or more protection – tend to be less easily reversible and to have a greater impact. Has protectionism increased in the aftermath of the crisis? Which countries, sectors and modes of supply have been associated with most trade-facilitating and trade-restrictive measures? The evidence gathered contradicts in many respects basic political economy expectations. Indeed, the countries, sectors and modes of supply where liberalizing and trade-restrictive measures have been implemented are not necessarily those one would have assumed. Most importantly, trade-facilitating measures have clearly outweighed trade-restrictive ones over the recent period, including after the onset of the crisis. This strong push towards autonomous liberalization bodes well for trade negotiations on services. The undertaking of greater commitments would bring benefits by consolidating this recent liberalization and by helping to reduce non-negligible outbursts of protectionism that have been witnessed over the last years. However, bilateral and plurilateral agreements, because of their limited country coverage, would only capture a fraction of the recent autonomous liberalization and, similarly, only help prevent part of the increase in trade-restrictive measures.