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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

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.