GATS -- Easing the Pain of Market Access?
The language business, like any service industry, can face a variety of regulatory barriers in the marketplace. If a border is involved, then a foreign provider of "translation and interpretation services" confronting obstacles in another country can likely seek relief under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
For the uninitiated, the WTO is the international organization that sets the global trade rules for 159 member countries. The WTO ensures that trade flows smoothly, predictably, fairly, and freely by administering trade agreements, facilitating multilateral negotiations, settling trade disputes, reviewing national trade policies, assisting developing countries in trade policy issues, and cooperating with other international organizations. Among the WTO's various trade agreements is the GATS, which sets objective standards for multilateral trade in services that facilitate the removal of unnecessary barriers to trade. All WTO member countries are GATS members and have assumed various levels of commitments in individual service sectors, including translation and interpretation services.
All service sectors under the GATS are subject to general and specific obligations unless specifically exempted or limited. The general obligations include the most-favored nation (MFN) and transparency requirements. MFN requires member countries to extend to other countries the most favorable treatment afforded to any other country; transparency requires member countries to make publicly available all government measures that affect trade in services. The specific obligations include market access and national treatment requirements. The market access requirement prevents a member country from maintaining or adopting measures that restrict the entry of foreign service suppliers into that country's domestic market in sectors specified by that country's schedule of specific commitments. The national treatment requirement prohibits a member country from treating its domestic suppliers more favorably than suppliers from other member countries in those sectors listed in that country's schedule of specific commitments.
If a particular country is creating headaches for GALA member companies attempting to provide translation and interpretation services there, relief under the GATS may ease the pain.
David M. Schwartz is an international trade and regulatory compliance attorney with Thompson Hine LLP in Washington, D.C. -- http://www.thompsonhine.com/lawyer/DavidMichaelSchwartz/. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 202.263.4170.
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NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of GALA.