ESF Home Page

The European Services Forum (ESF) is a network of representatives from the European services sector committed to actively promoting the liberalisation of international trade and investment in services. ESF’s main field of activity are the WTO GATS negotiations, the Plurilateral E-Commerce negotiations and the EU’s bilateral trade negotiations on services and investments

ESF welcomes Conclusion of WTO Services Domestic Regulation negotiations

“Today’s announcement demonstrates that the WTO negotiating function can deliver through a plurilateral process” said ESF Chairman Noel Clehane. 2nd December 2021 is indeed a date to celebrate – and a date that will be remembered as an upturn for global and regional trade. This is the first services outcome in the WTO in 24 years. Implementing the Reference Paper on Domestic Regulations Disciplines (INF/SDR/2) could reduce services trade costs by an estimated USD $150 billion annually, according to the OECD. See ESF Press-Release here.

Global Industry Comments on China’s Draft Data Transfer Assessment Measures

A global industry coalition, representing companies with business activities or interest in China and other global markets, respectfully submitted this letter regarding the draft Security Assessment Measures for Cross-border Transfer of Data (“Data Transfer Assessment Measures”). They asked that draft Data Transfer Assessment Measures should: (1) not impose greater restrictions on data transfers than necessary; (2) afford equal treatment to Chinese and foreign enterprises, services, and technologies; and (3) be administered in a uniform, impartial, and reasonable manner with a view to ensuring non-discriminatory and streamlined approvals. Plus some additional comments.

GSC Statement ahead of WTO MC12

The GSC welcomes the progress that has been made in preparations for MC12.  GSC members support all tangible results that will strengthen the multilateral system, such as the conclusion of the negotiations on fisheries subsidies; the launch of work programmes for WTO reforms in all three of the WTO’s functions (negotiations, implementation and monitoring and dispute settlement), a work programme for trade and health with a roadmap to prepare for future pandemics including essential services, and a work programme for trade and environmental sustainability  with a specific roadmap for future negotiations towards an environmental goods and services agreement.

GSC listed all the various priorities, including Services Domestic Regulation, JSI on E-Commerce, etc. and the support to explore ways to launch services market access liberalisation negotiations. See the full statement here.

Global Industry statement on the moratorium on duties on electronic transmissions

ESF, the Global Services Coalition, many services coalitions from developing countries adopted today a strong global industry statement (which gathered an unprecedented 74 business organisations), calling all WTO Countries to extend, at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva end of November 2021, the WTO Moratorium on custom duties on electronic transmissions. They praised the benefit of the Moratorium and warned that allowing the Moratorium to expire would be a historic setback for the WTO, representing an unprecedented termination of a multilateral agreement in place nearly since the WTO’s inception. Please find the statement here.

ESF Position on trade and health: “Don’t forget essential services”

On 16 November 2021, two weeks before the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, the European Services Forum called upon all WTO members to adopt a Ministerial Declaration at the forthcoming Conference  – that will take place in Geneva from 30th November till 3rd December 2021 – on trade and health.  ESF urges them to ensure that, in the roadmap to be agreed, due consideration will be taken so that crucial services will continue to function properly in time of pandemic crisis to ensure smooth flow of essential healthcare products. See Position here.

ESF Final contribution to DG TRade consultation on TSD chapters

The ESF final contribution to the online DG Trade public consultation on the review of the 15-Point Action Plan on Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) was posted on the DG Trade website on 28th October 2021. See here.

ESF Position on Trade and Climate

Considering the emergency to fight against climate change, the European Services Forum calls upon the WTO countries that are participating at the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TEESD) to adopt a joint statement at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference end of 2021 so as to launch trade in environmental goods and services negotiations as soon as possible. There is an urgent need to update the GATS commitments on environment related services, to allow international players to spread investment and operations in countries in need. See Position Paper here.

European Services Industries Priorities for the EU-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)

On 7 October 2021, ESF has adopted a revised Position Paper on the European Services Industries Priorities for the EU-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), that has been addressed to DG Trade Director General Ms. Sabine Weyand and relevant officials in the Commission by ESF Chairman Noel Clehane. See Executive Summary and detailed Paper here.

ESF call to WTO members to adopt the Proposal at MC12 to work towards commencing services market access negotiations

On 4th October 2021, the European Services Forum called upon all WTO members to endorse the proposal tabled on 26 August 2021 by Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (Document RD/SER/156) to work towards commencing services market access negotiations. Such proposal should be part of the forthcoming ministerial declaration at the end of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that will take place in Geneva starting on 30th November 2021 ( See text of the Call here)

GSC Flags to WTO Need for Policies to Support Services and Digital Trade,
Including in Post-Pandemic Recovery

On 28th September 2021, a delegation of Global Services Coalition (GSC) members attending the WTO Public Forum in Geneva focused on the prospects for the WTO Ministerial Conference later this year. Delegation members underscored the GSC’s strong support for concrete deliverables in the JSI E-Commerce negotiations; an extension of the WTO E-Commerce moratorium; adoption of the JSI text on Services Domestic Regulation; and an acknowledgement in the upcoming WTO Ministerial statement of the need to create momentum in services market access liberalization. See Press Statement here).

Transatlantic industry urge swift agreement on EU-U.S. personal data flows

One year after the Court of Justice of the European Union’s judgement which, among other things, invalidated the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework, ESF joined the multi-association letter sent to US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders to swiftly ensure an agreement for secure transatlantic data flows that in turn will strengthen trade, investment, technological cooperation, and reinvigorate the transatlantic partnership. “It is the ideal time to forge a new sustainable data transfer framework and we hope to hear from the U.S. government and European Commission on the completion of an agreement soon. urge for a swift agreement on EU-U.S. personal data flows” says the letter

Multi-Association Recommendations for the G20 to Drive the Global Digital Recovery

ESF supported the “Multi-Association Recommendations for the G20 to Drive the Global Digital Recovery” that were sent to G20 governments on 7th July 2021. The 12 signing organisations from the EU, US, Japan, Canada, Korea and Australia put forward 7 recommendations on Policies for an open and fair trade and investment environment and for 6 recommendations for Governance solutions to support digital transformations.

Among the recommendations, one can note i) Avoid digital protectionism or imposing barriers to trade in recovery planning and economic stimulus packages; ii) Ensure that regulatory approaches impacting digital services, technologies and infrastructure are non-discriminatory; iii) Invest in strengthening the resilience of global value chains.  You can find the statement here.

EU-Mercosur FTA – ESF signs business associations Joint Statement

Joint Business Statement on EU-Mercosur Association Agreement

Two years ago, on this very day, was signed the EU-Mercosur FTA after twenty years of negotiations. Today, 28th June 2021, ESF joined a group of 12 European business associations to call for a swift ratification. Please find attached the joint statement, and an accompanying info-graphic.

The statement describes the benefits of the agreement, both economic and on the trade and sustainable development issues. The statement also draws the attention that “failure to ratify the agreement would leave the EU and Mercosur with fewer instruments to build mutual trust and cooperate to face the biggest challenge of our time. Moreover, non-ratification will lead to Mercosur countries continuing to trade, or even expanding their trade, with other trading partners that have substantially lower environmental and labour standards”. Please find the business statement here, and an accompanying info-graphic.

GSC Joint Statement on WTO Priorities

On 24th June 2021, at the occasion of the Global Services Summit organised by the US Coalition of the Service Industries, twelve services industry coalitions, adopted a Joint Statement stating their priorities for the up-coming 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that will take place at the end of this year. The focus on the statement is on the WTO Disciplines on Services Domestic Regulation, where GSC urges to be a deliverable at MC12. And on the JSI negotiations for WTO rules on E-Commerce, where significant progress are expected by the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, and where GSC calls for a clonclusion within a relatively short time after MC12 (see statement here).

ESF signed a Multi-associations letter on draft China Personal Information Protection Law

On 2nd June 2021, ESF signed a Multi-association letter to the Chinese National People’s Congress in Beijing, where the 32 signing organisations respectfully raised concerns to the National People’s Congress in Beijing regarding certain provisions relating to data localization and data transfers in the draft Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) and Data Security Law (DSL). See letter here.

ESF signs a Multi-associations call on G20 leaders to drive the global digital recovery

ESF comes together with ten of our sister associations to make concrete policy recommendations to the G20. ESF is committed to bridging the gap between industry, business, and our digital future. The letter can be found here and here.

ESF joins Global Industry Group to Urge European Parliament to vote in favour of EU-UK Adequacy Decisions

“Ahead of the plenary vote on 20 May, the undersigned organisations respectfully urge the European Parliament to recognise the high standard of the UK’s data protection regime, as well as the impressive work done by the European Commission, the European Data Protection Board, and the Member States in striving for a timely adoption of the draft adequacy decisions by the end of May”. (see Statement here).

ESF Call for a swift adoption of the Regulation for an International public Procurement Instrument (IPI)

On 23 April 2021, ESF Chairman Noel Clehane sent a letter to Minister Augusto Santos Silva from Portugal, as head of the EU Presidency, expressing the call of the European Services Forum for a swift adoption of the regulation for an International public Procurement Instrument.  The letter has been sent to the Permanent Representations of EU Member States and to the members of the European Parliament’ INTA Committee. You can find the letter and its accompanying background paper here.

ESF signs Business joint letter on CETA implementation

ESF signed a joint letter by European and Canadian business representatives regarding core outstanding issues in the implementation of CETA. The letter is sent on behalf of ESF, BusinessEurope, EUROCHAMBRES, the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Business Council of Canada, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance as a follow up after the CETA Joint Committee meeting that took place on March 25. See letter here (also in French here).

ESF letter to DG Okonjo-Iweala on essential services during pandemic

On 12 March 2021, ESF Chairman Noel Clehane send a letter to the new WTO Director General, D. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, reiterating the ESF call to consider role of crucial international services trade related to “trade in healthcare products “ in time of pandemic crisis.  This call was already made to EU EVP and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis last November.

ESF signs congratulatory joint association letter from global digital and technology industries

On 9th March 2021, ESF signed a letter from leaders of global digital and technology industries, congratulating Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her new appointment as Director General of the World Trade Organisation, and describing their views on how the World Trade Organization can best support and strengthen the world’s digital trade ecosystem. See here.

European Services Forum welcomes the Commission Communication on Trade Policy

The European Services Forum (ESF) welcomes the Commission Communication on Trade Policy Review that was published today (18/02/2021). “Today’s announcement is setting the basis for a revised Trade Policy that takes many aspects of the comments made extensively by the European services Forum[1] in the past two years” said ESF Chairman Noel Clehane in a press-release (see here). “We welcome in particular the strong focus on services and digital trade”.

Regarding the concept of “open strategic autonomy”, ESF believes that the EU resilience lies in keeping world markets open with fair and non-discriminatory conditions. ESF urges the EU to ratify and implement the agreements that are pending and calls for the conclusion of advanced and deep FTAs under negotiation with developed and emerging countries.

ESF welcomes the appointment of WTO DG Okonjo-Iweala

The European Services Forum (ESF) welcomed the decision on 15 February 2021 by the World Trade Organisation’s General Council, to designate Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the WTO’s new Director-General.

 “We urge all WTO members to do their utmost to initiate the necessary decisions and reforms to bring the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism and its Appellate Body back into operation, and to revitalise the WTO negotiating function” said Noel Clehane, ESF Chairman in a statement (see here).

GSC letter to Co-Convenors of WTO JSI on E-Commerce

Twelve services industry coalitions, gathered in the Global Services Coalition, sent a letter to the three co-convenors of the Joint Statement Initiative on WTO rules on E-Commerce, namely the Geneva Delegations of Australia, Japan and Singapore, expressing our priorities for the negotiations and pushing for substantial progress toward an advanced, commercially meaningful agreement by the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (see letter here).

ESF Director at WEBINAR on “EU-China CAI”

The webinar took place on Wednesday 27 January 2021. It was moderated by Prof. Jane Drake-Brockman, from Institute for International Trade (IIP), University of Adelaide & Board Director, Australian Services Roundtable. The Keynote Speaker was Maria Martin-Prat, EU Chief Negotiator, European Commission, Brussels. The Panelists were Bryan Mercurio, Simon F.S. Li Professor of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Dr Pascal Kerneis, Managing Director, European Services Forum, Brussels.

See Programme here. See YouTube video of the event here above (ESF Director from 20:00 to 36:00). An Opinion Piece was also posted on the IIP website at this occasion (here).

ESF signs Multi-Industry statement on WTO JSI on E-Commerce

On 26 January 2021, ESF joined more than 75 other business organisations from around the world in a multi-industry statement, urging the WTO participating countries to the negotiations of the Joint Statement Initiative for WTO Rules on E-Commerce to agree on a WTO framework to agree enables responsible data to flow across borders and prohibits unnecessary localization requirements.

ESF welcomes the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment

“This is a very important agreement for European service businesses who today face many market access barriers on the Chinese market”: said Pascal Kerneis, Managing of the European Services Forum (see Press Statement here). For service companies, the establishment of a commercial presence abroad is the preferred way to operate internationally. ESF welcomes the commitment by China to eliminate restrictions like equity caps or joint venture requirements and to open up progressively many services sectors like financial services, telecommunications and IT and computer related services.

European service industries welcome the conclusion of the Future EU-UK Trading Arrangements

On 24 December, few minutes after the announcement of the conclusion of the negotiations of the Future EU-UK Trading Arrangements by the two Parties, Noel Clehane, Chairman of the European Services Forum said: “In this time of uncertainty due to the Covid pandemic, it is a profound relief that a deal has been struck, as a failure could only have added to the difficulties that our economies are already suffering” . The Agreement will bring the much-needed legal certainty to services enterprises. Businesses will need prompt and clear information on the regime for transport services, mobility of professionals, cross-border data flows, financial services equivalence, and many other matters. See full Press-Release here.

ESF call to consider role of crucial international services trade related to “trade in healthcare products “ in time of pandemic crisis

On 23 November 2020, ESF Chairman Noel Clehane send a letter to the EU institutions, the EU Member States and the WTO countries to consider role of crucial international services trade related to “trade in healthcare products “ in time of pandemic crisis

The European Services Forum drew the attention on the need to consider the role of crucial international services trade in time of pandemic crisis. Indeed, despite the evidence that without services (health, transport, logistics, IT, etc.), no trade of essential medical equipment or pharmaceutical products like vaccines and medicines can take place during a pandemic crisis, it seems that the EU and many other countries, when planning for future crisis, only consider trade in healthcare products as essential. Unfortunately, nothing is said about the need for keeping essential services to continue to function. See the letter here.

ESF Director at Geneva Trade Week – S9 –

On 29 September 2020, ESF Managing Director contributed to the debate on the 9th Session of the Geneva Trade Week on international governance for digitally-enabled services, highlighting the main issues discussed in the JSI negotiations for WTO rules on e-commerce.

ESF Responses to Commission’s White Paper on Foreign Subsidies

On 23 September 2020, ESF submitted via the online consultation platform, the contribution of the European Services Forum on the European Commission white paper dealing with the distortive effects caused by foreign subsidies in the single market. You can find the final version here.

CETA 3 year anniversary: Success and challenges for CETA in a time of COVID

On 21 September 2020, the Canada EU Trade and Investment Association (CEUTIA) and the European Services Forum (ESF), together with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and CERT, hosted a high level webinar to mark the 3rd year anniversary of the provisional application of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The Honourable Mary Ng, Canadian Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, delivered the keynote address.  Other speakers included Rupert Schlegelmilch (Director, DG Trade, European Commission), Ailish Campbell (Chief Trade Commissioner of Canada), Esther Nieto-Hernandez (Deputy Head of Unit, DG Trade) and Stephane Lambert (Counsellor & Head of Trade, Mission of Canada to the EU). The event was moderated by ESF Chairman Noel Clehane with CEUTIA President Mark Camilleri delivering the closing remarks.

A press release from Minister Ng’s statement can be accessed here. European Commission statement issued on that day can be found here.

ESF Position on EU Proposal to amend EU Enforcement Regulation

On 18 September 2020, ESF Chairman, Noel Clehane sent a letter with the ESF Position to European institutions on the EU proposal to amend the EU enforcement regulation.

We expressed some concerns in relation to the European Parliament proposals on adjustments to the EU Enforcement Regulations that, in our view, go well beyond those of the Commission. We highlighted our concerns to see the proposal to expand the scope of EU unilateral enforcement powers to include services and intellectual property in the list of possible trade measures the EU can use against a trading partner. We hence requested the EU institutions, before adopting such an extension, that the Commission and all EU institutions provide some clarifications on what kind of measures they foresee for implementation in the services and IPR, and what impact these could lead to.  Should the decision in the trilogue to extend the regulation to services and IPR be taken, ESF urged the EU to accompany such decision by setting up a proper control mechanism among the EU institutions, with prior consultations of interested stakeholders before triggering any retaliation.

ESF Contribution to Commission’s Trade Policy Review

On 14 September 2020, ESF Chairman, Noel Clehane sent a letter to EVP & Commissioner Designate for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis on the contribution of the European Services Forum (ESF) to the European Commission’s Consultation on the Trade Policy Review.

“The European Union success has been built upon open trade with the rest of the world while ensuring high level of consumer protection, and high-level respect of labour rights and environment protection. These values have made Europe stronger and have positioned the European Union as a solid and trustful partner that in return provided the Union with tremendous access to other countries’ markets, which generated exports, imports and investment that created growth and millions of jobs. The new trade policy must pursue the exercise of supporting rules-based trade with trading partner outside the EU.  This will contribute to increase the resilience of the Union, by offering new market access” says ESF Chairman.

You can find the letter here.

ESF Position Paper on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment

On 29 June 2020, ESF sent its new Position Paper on the EU-China CAI to the European Institutions. The main objective of the European services industry is that the Agreement would improve market access conditions for European companies. You can find the Position Paper here.

The European Services Forum calls the EU negotiators to use the negative list approach for the negotiations; to negotiate similar access to European services providers than the one China allowed other trading partners; to negotiate the incorporation of new openings by China revised national “negative lists”; to ensure that the Agreement will cover all market access issues which are linked to investment, i.e. also the movement of people linked to the investments. In addition of new market access for services businesses, ESF emphasise that adoption of strong disciplines will be crucial.  It calls the EU to negotiate Transparency and domestic regulation requirements; to ensure that European services enterprises compete on an equal footing when operating in China (Level Playing Field), and set rules for State owned enterprises (SOEs). Furthermore, ESF calls upon the negotiators to negotiate an Investment Protection Agreement that will provide a strong protection to EU investors. The agreement should have an efficient state-to-state dispute resolution mechanism and an efficient investor-to-state-dispute settlement. ESF also calls the EU to split up the deal with China into two legal treaties, one being the Comprehensive Investment Agreement that will tackle market access and national treatment issues, and a second one being the Investment Protection Agreement (IPA).

ESF letter Cross-border data flows in EU Trade Agreements

On 4th June, ESF Chairman Noel Clehane sent a letter to the European Commission on the issue of Cross border data flows in EU trade agreements, in reaction to the EU recent strategies on European Data and on Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, and in the context of ongoing plurilateral and bilateral negotiations of digital trade issues.

The European services industries drew the attention on the fact that the EU’s transfer mechanisms deal only with data going out of the EU, and they urge the European institutions to address, in trade agreements with its partners, the need that data can also move out of third countries to the EU or elsewhere. ESF also called the EU to act strongly against a protectionist trend by many countries which use personal data protection as disguised trade barriers and to ensure provisions in EU trade agreements that will ban all unjustified data localisation measures. The EU should also strengthen the provisions for free flow of non-personal data in the digital trade chapter of FTAs, and promote regulatory cooperation between EU and third countries data protection authorities.

ESF Position Paper on WTO JSI on Investment Facilitation for Development

On 13 May 2020, ESF sent its Position Paper on the WTO Joint Statement Initiative on Investment Facilitation for Development. It is an important initiative to provide more transparency on the national laws and regulation of countries that want to facilitate access to foreign direct investment as a tool to foster economic development. Indeed, the lack of transparency and due diligence in the regulatory environment for foreign investors are systematically raised as major trade barriers when European service investors try to open or expand investment in third countries.

The European Services Forum calls upon all WTO Members to engage in the coming months in the negotiating phase towards the adoption of WTO Investment Facilitation Framework, if possible by the Twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference whenever it will take place, or at least to register good progress at that Conference and encourage the negotiators to keep the momentum and pursue their talks towards the conclusion of an ambitious framework as early as possible.

ESF letter to EU Trade Commissioner Hogan on COVID19 & EU Trade Policy

On 29th April 2020, ESF Chairman, Noel Clehane, sent to EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan a letter highlighting the importance of the essential international services in the fight against the COVID19 outbreak, expressing some concerns about the increase of measures imposing export and import restrictions or other trade barriers that are already disrupting stretched global supply chains, both within the EU and with third countries, and – in the perspective of the announced review of the trade policy part of the Commission 2020 Work Programme – emphasising the priorities of the European services industry in the EU trade policy for the years to come. see letter here.

New GSC Position Statements on Data Flows and E-Commerce Moratorium

The Global Services Coalition, of which ESF is a member, has issued two new position statements in response to the ongoing digital trade negotiations. The first statement, a response to critics of the WTO E-commerce Moratorium on  customs duties on electronic transmissions, gives a synopsis of the current debate and advocates that the moratorium be made permanent at the next WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) (see here).

The second statement, on cross-border data flows, details the benefits of free data and the major risks to global prosperity of data localisation policies. As the statement says: “Especially now, with the world battling a global pandemic, it is critical to be able to move data quickly across borders. In fact, digital data is in constant movement round the world, powering many of the services that global users have come to take for granted.” The second statement on cross-border data flows can found by following this link.

GSC Statement on Essential Services in Combating COVID-19

As the world continues to grapple with the global COVID-19 pandemic, the members of the Global Services Coalition call on governments to take a range of critical measures to maintain resilience in the supply of essential services during this time of crisis. As governments curtail commercial activity and social interaction to fight the global pandemic, it is critical for them to allow for continuation of these and other essential services, while of course ensuring the health and safety of the personnel involved. See Statement here.

European Service Industry Call for ambitious trade in services commitments in the EU-UK future trade agreement

On 20 January 2020, ESF Chairman Noel Clehane wrote to both the EU (here) and the UK (here) authorities to call upon them to ensure that any agreement on the future relationship between the EU and the UK will include in depth commitments on trade in services. It will be extremely important to cover trade in services between the two parties, as mutual trade in services is a significant source of jobs, growth and competitiveness in the EU27 and in the UK.

Services are the basis of both economies representing 74% of EU GDP and 73% of the EU labour force and 80.4% of UK GDP and 83.5% of the UK labour force. Services trade related issues are often not seen as decisive in trade negotiations, but in this case and without any doubt, they should be.  Services constitute a sizable share of the EU27’s overall trade to the UK and vice versa. The EU27 exported €98.6 billion services to the UK in 2018 and the UK exported €131.9 billion services to the EU27, which accounts for 41.4% of UK global exports of services.  Trade in services represents 40.5% of UK total exports to the EU (goods + services). Any agreement between the EU and the UK must therefore include ambitious commitments in trade in services. An agreement that did not tackle services issues will potentially be hugely detrimental to both economies. See related Press Statement here.