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Committee on Regional Trade Agreements - Seventy-fourth Session - Economic integration agreement between the European Union and Serbia (services) - Note on the meeting of 23 September 2014
作者:Committee on Regional Trade Agreements

economic integration agreement between the European Union and Serbia (services)

Note on the Meeting of 23 september 2014

Chairman: Ambassador Francisco Pirez Gordillo (Uruguay)

1.1.  The 74th Session of the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements (hereinafter 'CRTA' or the 'Committee') was convened in Airgram WTO/AIR/4338 dated 11 August 2014.

1.2.  Under Agenda Item C.I of the Session, the CRTA considered the Economic Integration Agreement between the European Union and Serbia, (hereinafter "the Agreement").

1.3.  The Chairman recalled that during the CRTA meeting of 4 March 2009, Members had agreed to consider RTAs involving non Members under the Transparency Mechanism's procedures and that RTAs notified since 14 December 2006, including future notifications, should be taken up before the others. Members had made it clear that the consideration of such agreements by the Committee had no implications for the views or positions of any Member with respect to the consistency of that RTA with the WTO rules and would be without prejudice to the rights and obligations of Members under the WTO Agreements, as clearly stated in paragraphs 1 and 5 of the Transparency Mechanism Decision. Members had also agreed that the consideration of such agreements in the CRTA would be organized under a separate Agenda Item.

1.4.  The Chairman said that the Agreement had entered into force on 1 September 2013. It had been notified to the WTO by the European Union on 20 December 2013 under GATS Article V:7(a) as an Agreement providing for the liberalization of trade in services within the meaning of Article V of the GATS (document S/C/N/716). The text of the Agreement was available, together with its Annexes, on the Parties' official websites.   The Factual Presentation on the services aspects (document WT/REG285/3 dated 27 June 2014) and written questions and replies (documents WT/REG285/4 and WT/REG285/4/Add.1 dated 14 August and 10 September 2014, respectively) had been issued. He proposed to organize the consideration of the Agreement by first asking the Parties and then other Members to give any general comments and then turn to the specifics of the Agreement, using the Factual Presentation, document WT/REG285/3, to guide the debate.

1.5.  The representative of the European Union welcomed the CRTA’s consideration of the EU‑Serbia Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and was particularly grateful to the Secretariat for the preparation of the Factual Presentation. He also thanked Serbia for its fruitful cooperation in the exercise and Thailand and Peru for their questions and the interest shown in the consideration of the Agreement. Before introducing the Agreement's commitments and disciplines, he wished to make some general remarks, recalling the broader economic and political context within which to situate the Agreement under discussion. From an economic point of view, the level of Serbia's trade integration with the EU was quite high. The EU remained Serbia’s main trading partner, accounting for 63% of its total exports and 62% of its imports in 2013. Shares of both Serbia’s exports to the EU and imports from the EU had increased in recent years. The share of net FDI inflows from the EU in total net FDI inflows stood at 64% in 2012. Serbia had been identified as a potential candidate for EU membership during the Thessaloniki European Council summit back in 2003. In 2008, a European partnership for Serbia had been adopted, setting out priorities for the country's membership application. It was within this framework that, on 16 June 2008, the EU and Serbia had signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement that had entered into force on 1 September 2013.

1.6.  The Stabilisation and Association agreements had traditionally served as the framework for negotiations between the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans. Beyond improving the general conditions for trading, these agreements were also designed to prepare the countries concerned to accede to the EU and participate in its internal market, identifying common political and economic objectives and encouraging regional co-operation. The SAA with Serbia succeeded the Interim Agreement on Trade and Trade Related Matters which had entered into force on 1 February 2010, implementing provisions on trade in goods as well as other provisions, notably competition rules and intellectual property rights.

1.7.  The discussion in the meeting would focus only on the services aspects of the Agreement as the provisions already implemented by the Interim Agreement had been considered by the Committee at its 61st Session on 28 June 2011. The main elements of the services aspects of the Agreement were as follows: it was composed of a Preamble and ten parts as well as Annexes and Protocols on Land Transport and Dispute Settlement. Title V concerned the provisions governing trade in Services and was composed of five chapters (Chapter I Movement of Workers; Chapter II Establishment; Chapter III Supply of Services; Chapter IV Current Payments and Movement of Capital; and Chapter V General Provisions). Overall, it provided for substantial sectoral coverage, since all sectors were included, with the only exceptions of air transport services, inland waterways transport services, and maritime cabotage services. Commitments on these sectors were also possible, should the Stabilisation and Association Council so decide. The Agreement covered all modes of supply, i.e. cross-border, establishment and temporary movement of persons, with no a priori exclusions. Additionally, the Agreement provided for the elimination of existing discriminatory measures based on nationality and required that the Parties grant national treatment for the establishment and operation of their companies and nationals from entry into force.

1.8.  The Agreement provided also for the liberalisation of the supply of services between the Parties and the temporary movement of services suppliers. The EU had had good cooperation with Serbia in the implementation of the obligations under the Agreement including in the area of establishment, supply of services and movement of workers. Of course, a number of further reform measures and important legislative changes were still required by Serbia, but this was within the transitional period foreseen for the realisation of the Agreement. The EU would continue to accompany these efforts through technical and financial assistance. He seized the opportunity to point out that Serbia's accession to the WTO would represent an important advancement in Serbia's further integration into the international economy, and would certainly be conducive to fostering further economic and trade related reforms. The EU was strongly supportive of the accession process, which was at an advanced stage, and firmly believed that other WTO Members would also benefit from a closer trade relationship with Serbia that the country's early accession would enhance.

1.9.  The representative of Serbia thanked the EU representative for his analytical presentation of the services part of the FTA with which her delegation fully agreed. The negotiations between the EU and Serbia on the conclusion of the SAA had commenced on 10 October 2005 and had been concluded on 10 September 2007. The Agreement had been signed on 29 April 2008 in Luxembourg. The Interim Trade Agreement had come into effect for both sides on 1 February 2010 and the SAA had entered into force on 1 September 2013. In the meantime, the EU had replied positively to Serbia’s request for membership in the EU and on 28 June 2013 took the decision to start negotiations on accession with Serbia. The first intergovernmental conference, held in Brussels on 21 January 2014, marked the official start of these negotiations. Serbia had concluded a number of FTAs; however, the SAA was the first all-inclusive agreement signed by Serbia with the EU and its Member States. The Agreement regulated almost all aspects of mutual relations between the EU and Serbia, first of all, mutual economic and trade relations, which, prior to the signing of the Agreement, had been based on unilateral statements of good will on both sides. The Agreement was, also institutionally, the basis for further processes of association with the EU, ultimately leading to full membership.

1.10.  This was the first time that trade in services had been included in Serbia's relations with its trading partners, and was of great importance for Serbia bearing in mind the significant role that services sectors had within its economy. After the transition process started in Serbia from 2000 and until now, the structure of GDP had been changing in favour of services; for example, the share of agriculture had decreased from 13.6% in 2003, to 12.6% in 2006 and 7.90% in 2013, while the share of industry varied from 26.2% in 2003 to 24.3% in 2006, and recovered to 31.8% in 2013. The share of services had increased from 60.2% in 2003 to 63.1% in 2006, fluctuating in following years and reaching 60.3% in 2013. Services sectors with the most dynamic imports and exports in Serbia's services trade were transport, travel and communications which had registered a continuous increase of both exports and imports with the EU and the world.

1.11.  The EU was Serbia's first ranked trading partner with a share in total Serbian trade reaching 61.4% and with coverage of imports by exports of 72.2% in 2013. These data covered total trade between the partners. It was too early to assess the effects of the SAA on trade in services only, bearing in mind that the free trade area in services had not yet been achieved. However, the significance of the SAA had to be understood in terms of creating the environment for future membership of Serbia in the EU. Full trade liberalization effects could only be seen after the necessary harmonization of Serbian domestic legislation with the EU acquis was done. Serbia faced complex and time consuming work to achieve this goal. The first steps were currently taking place through the explanatory and bilateral screenings of the relevant chapters in the European Commission after which huge domestic work should take place to transpose and implement respective legislation. She added that membership in the WTO was very important for Serbia as an instrument for modernizing and improving the competitiveness of its services sectors and the overall setting for conducting trade. Finally, she thanked the Secretariat for the preparation of the Factual Presentation and the delegations of Thailand and Peru who had submitted questions and comments. Her delegation remained at the disposal of Members if additional comments and answers were needed.

1.12.  The representative of Thailand expressed her delegation's appreciation for the comprehensive written responses to its questions.

1.13.  The Chairman said that the consideration of the Services Aspects of the Economic Integration Agreement between the European Union and Serbia had allowed the Committee to clarify a number of questions and the oral discussion of this RTA could be concluded in accordance with paragraph 11 of the Transparency Mechanism. If any delegations wished to ask follow up questions they were invited to forward submissions in writing to the Secretariat by 30 September 2014 and Parties were asked to submit replies in writing by no later than 14 October 2014. In accordance with paragraph 13 of the Transparency Mechanism all written submissions, as well as minutes of this meeting would be circulated promptly, in all WTO official languages, and would be made available on the WTO website.

1.14.  The Committee took note of the comments made.