General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the WTO

In this Chapter you will find information about the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the ongoing negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO). You will find basic material on the GATS texts, the GATS commitments of Switzerland, the position of Switzerland in the GATS talks, such as the Swiss requests and offers, as well as all negotiating proposals submitted by Switzerland to the WTO.

The GATS and the Schedule of commitments of Switzerland

What is the GATS?

The law of the WTO is by far the main component of international trade law. The WTO is constituted of several trade agreements pertaining to trade in goods (GATT 1994), intellectual property (TRIPS), and services. The latter is the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The GATS is the largest agreement covering all services in a comprehensive manner - just as the WTO is the largest trade body. Other international agreements either cover only some services (e.g. maritime transport, telecommunication, postal services, air transport) or, if they are comprehensive, have a more limited membership, such as free trade agreements (FTA) or regional trade agreements (RTA). Switzerland is a Member of the WTO and consequently a Member of the GATS.

The main obligations of the GATS are market access and national treatment, as well as the most-favoured-nation obligation. Market access and national treatment commitments are undertaken by each Member individually in a Member specific schedule of commitments. The other GATS obligations are found in the main body of the Agreement or its numerous annexes, and apply equally to all WTO Members. You can download the text of the GATS by clicking here:

With the entry into force of the GATS early 1995 Switzerland has undertaken a wide range of commitments covering substantially all economically relevant services sectors. They were enhanced by commitments undertaken in the late 1990s as a result of negotiations on financial services, telecommunications services and Mode 4. It is not easy to get a global overview of GATS schedules indeed. To allow just that, Switzerland has developped a quantitative methodology to produce a graphical translation of any schedule of commitments (you will find on this site a description of the Swiss methodology in document TN/S/W/51). The GATS schedule of specific commitments of Switzerland as well as its graphical representation are found here:

In order to classify services sectors and sub-sectors, international trade agreements often use the so-called W/120 of the WTO. In this context, the various services are defined based on the so-called CPC (Central Product Classification). This is a classification of the United Nations covering all activities, where services are covered in sections 5 to 9.

The position of Switzerland in the GATS negotiations  

The Swiss requests

Switzerland submitted requests to about 50 WTO Members (where the EU-15 is one Member). The requests address mainly industrialised countries, especially the European Union, the United States and Japan. Least developed countries and sub-saharan countries where excluded in principle.

The Swiss requests target the following sectors:

  • financial services (banking and insurance)
  • intra-corporate transferees
  • logistics services (freight forwarding, cargo handling)
  • selected business services
  • distribution services and tourism services (hotels and travel agencies)

The Swiss requests, though, do not cover sectors such as education, health, rail and road transport, postal services, telecommunication services and audiovisual services. This is because of the Swiss approach to public services and the limited offensive trade interest in those sectors. 

The Swiss offers

Switzerland submitted offers in accordance with WTO ministerial decisions. An initial offer was submitted in April 2003 and then substituted by a revised offer in June 2005. The offer reflects the high level of openness of the Swiss market and was distributed to all Members of the WTO. By comparison with other Members of the WTO, the offer improves further Swiss commitments up to a substantial level, as shown by the diagram made based on the methodology of TN/S/W/51. Both offers and the graphical assessment are found here:

The Swiss Negotiation Proposals

Specific commitments for least-developed countries (LDCs)

At the ninth WTO ministerial conference in Bali 2013, ministers adopted a resolution about the operationalisation of the preferential treatment to least-developed countries (LDCs).

Based on that decision, at its session of 24 June 2015, the Federal Council approved the granting of preferential treatment.

Switzerland submitted its notification and the schedule of specific commitments on 30 July 2015.

Last modification 17.01.2019

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