How courier services are treated in WTO rules – a primer for Uzbekistan officials
Sweeping changes have marked global postal services. This has implications for how countries acceding to the WTO approach their commitments on courier services in WTO negotiations. Uzbekistan recently received training to prepare for that process.
Postal and courier services form an important element of communications infrastructure. Traditionally, the sector was operated as government-run monopolies. However, technological developments have prompted big changes since the 1990s. This has had implications both for the way the sector is operated as well as regulated.
The arrival of e-mail presented a new form of competition to conventional post-relayed mail. On the other hand, parcel delivery has boomed because of the exponential growth of e-commerce. At the manufacturing level, just-in-time responses demanded by global supply chains have also proved a boon for delivery services. The sector is growing strongly owing to its central role in modern-day logistics and supply-chain management.
In response to the industry evolving, most countries have made market-driven adjustments, for instance by privatizing and corporatizing postal services, and narrowing their scope. Courier services have been separated from telecommunications in 85% of countries, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Today, 70% of international mail is provided by private companies, while parcel and express delivery is completely dominated by private sector operators.
Despite these radical changes, the sector faces significant barriers, including in customs regulations and contract requirements. Regulatory issues concern anti-competitive practices, burdensome or untransparent universal service obligations, onerous licensing requirements and the absence of independent regulators.
Courier services still sensitive for many countries
In the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the sector is still defined by the nature of ownership, which is now considered to be an outdated approach not suited to WTO services trade commitments.
Most countries that have acceded to the WTO since 1995 have made commitments in courier services.
However, the sector remains sensitive for many developing and least developed countries that still operate postal monopolies and where the post is a reserved service.
Because of its strategic importance for WTO demandeurs, Uzbekistan negotiators were recently trained on the sector’s intricacies of the sector and the process of scheduling commitments in courier services. The training was offered by the International Trade Centre (ITC) on 16 March 2022, under its European Union-funded project: ‘Facilitating the process of Uzbekistan's accession to the WTO’.
Fifth session series on trade in services
The training was the fifth session in a series of technical workshops in services trade. Sessions that have already been offered include audiovisual services, distribution services, environmental services and telecommunications.
The training gave an overview of the sector’s market trends and regulatory barriers before turning to relevant sectoral negotiating proposals. The session worked through the current scheduling options by presenting a model schedule of trade in courier services commitments and discussing possible implications for Uzbekistan undertaking commitments in this sector.
The workshop was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade (MIFT), the department responsible for negotiating Uzbekistan’s WTO accession, as well as by representatives of the Ministry of Economic Development and Poverty Reduction, the Ministry for Development of Information Technologies and Communications and JSC “Uzbektelecom”.