The global regulatory environment for services trade became more restrictive in 2020, with new barriers compounding the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic on exporters, according to a new OECD report.
OECD Services Trade Restrictiveness Index (STRI): Policy trends up to 2021 shows an increasing pace in the erection of new barriers to services trade across all major sectors. New restrictions are affecting services traded through a range of commercial establishments, in sectors including computer services, commercial banking and broadcasting. Global services trade fell by 24% in the third quarter of 2020 compared to a year ago, a small uptick from the 30% year-on-year decline registered in the second quarter.
While the overall trend was toward greater restrictiveness, governments around the world did lower barriers to cross-border digital trade in 2020, as part of the overarching policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic. More facilitation measures for digital trade were issued than in previous years, helping remote working and online business operations.
“We have experienced a major shift in trade during the pandemic,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said. “Transport and travel have collapsed, but digitally-delivered trade and enabling services such as telecommunications have contributed to the resilience of our economies. Lifting restrictions to trade in services will be critical as governments seek to put the global economy on the road to a strong, inclusive and sustainable recovery.”
The report, which covers services trade regulations in 48 countries, representing more than 80% of global services exports, identifies top performers in terms of regulatory best practices, including Czech Republic, Latvia, the Netherlands, Japan, Lithuania and the United Kingdom. It also highlights recent reform efforts in Brazil, China, Iceland, Indonesia and Kazakhstan.
National and collective action to ease barriers to services trade can reduce trade costs for firms that provide services across borders. On average across sectors and countries, services trade costs could decline by more than 15% after 3-5 years if countries could close half of the regulatory gaps with best performers. An ambitious services trade agenda, including new services market access commitments in comprehensive trade and investment agreements, can drive such gains, the report said.