Handbook of Space Law
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Handbook of Space Law

Edited by Frans von der Dunk

Handbook of Space Law addresses the legal and regulatory aspects of activities in outer space and major space applications from a comprehensive and structured perspective. The book fundamentally addresses the dichotomy between the state-oriented character of international space law and the increasing commercialization and privatization of space activities.
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Chapter 15: International trade aspects of space services

Frans von der Dunk


With the increasing commercialization, even privatization, of substantial sectors of space activities the inherently international aspects of those activities also start to touch upon issues of free trade and market access in the global arena. In the context of satellite communications, as part of the larger sector of telecommunications, this has already given rise to inclusion into the GATS regime underpinned by the WTO, whereby in many cases the cross-border provision and consumption of satellite communication services is now subject to free trade provisions under that regime. In other space sectors, however, the GATS/WTO regime has not (yet) been made to apply, even as gradually similar issues arise as regards a global level playing field. In the launch services sector, in particular, for some time bilateral agreements were drafted amongst the few relevant states to address market access issues; at the same time, disputes about unfair government subsidies in the sector continue to arise. As very high resolution data may push for a truly commercialized market environment to arise in satellite remote sensing, as satellite navigation services may in some instances also turn into a viable commercial business sector, and as private commercial spaceflight operations may soon involve a number of potential spaceports around the world, the same or similar issues regarding the need for, alternatively desirability, of a global level playing field need to be addressed. Chapter 15 consequently addresses the various relevant space sectors from this perspective: respectively to what extent has such a global level playing field already arisen, should it arise, and to what extent could the appropriate legal instruments to achieve it be found within the GATS/WTO framework – as opposed to separate multilateral or bilateral arrangements, and unilateral initiatives achieving such results ‘bottom-up’. Finally, it should be understood that, whilst trade in services (as much as trade in goods under the GATT) obviously concerns terrestrial activities, at least for the foreseeable future only indirectly touching upon the satellite operations, those space operations in an increasingly commercialized and privatized environment depend more and more upon the feasibility and viability of such downstream activities. In other words: increasingly the terrestrial international trade regimes under GATT/GATS/WTO law have a distinct impact also on the upstream space operations, and therefore should not be left out of a comprehensive analysis of the law relevant for space activities.

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