Environmental services

The environment industry has developed significantly over the last 15 years, due in particular to growing environmental awareness and increasingly stringent environmental standards and regulations. Technology has evolved, shifting to more prevention. As a result, the scope of the negotiations in this sector is broader now than during the Uruguay Round, which concluded in 1994.



Environmental services includes sewage services, refuse disposal, sanitation and similar services, reducing vehicle emissions, noise abatement services, nature and landscape protection services and “other” environmental services.


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Current commitments and exemptions  

More than 40 WTO members, at all levels of development, have undertaken specific commitments on environmental services. Most have commitments in several sub-sectors while some have commitments in all sub-sectors.

Compared with other sectors, such as tourism, financial services or telecommunications, the level of environmental services commitments bound under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is modest. This can be explained, in part, by the prevailing role played by public entities in providing these services. On the other hand, those members that have undertaken specific commitments in this sector account for more than 80 per cent of GDP of all WTO members. Also, members' policies may be more liberal in practice than what is indicated in their schedules of commitments.

Environmental services is a sector where most trade takes place through commercial presence (Mode 3), with the accompanying presence of natural persons (Mode 4). Due to technological developments, cross-border supply (Mode 1) is of increasing importance in this sector.

No exemptions to most-favoured nation (MFN) treatment (i.e. non-discrimination) have been taken in environmental services.

For consolidated information on countries’ commitments and exemptions on environmental services go to the services database. If you are seeking the commitments of a specific WTO member, go to “Jump to a specific sector for a given Member”, select environmental services from the sector dropdown list, select the Member of interest and click “go”. To see a table showing which Members have made commitments in environmental services choose “See which Members have made commitments in a specific sector”, select Environmental services and click “go”.


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Current negotiations 

Environmental services are included in the services negotiations, which began in January 2000.

Environmental goods and services are singled out for liberalization in paragraph 31(iii) of the Doha Declaration, which calls for “the reduction or, as appropriate, elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services” with a view to “enhancing the mutual supportiveness of trade and environment”. WTO members have identified individually or in groups the following objectives in the market access negotiations on environmental services (TN/S/23):

  • high levels of market access across sub-sectors, as far as possible
  • Mode 1 commitments for as many sub-sectors as possible, in particular advisory services
  • objective of full commitments for Mode 2 (consumers or firms making use of a service in another country)
  • ambitious commitments for Mode 3, removing barriers on commercial establishment; if exclusive rights are awarded, foreign suppliers should be able to participate in the tender and operation of the service
  • Mode 4 commitments to ensure mobility of service suppliers, such as remediation specialists, conservationists and geomatic professionals
  • commitments across all sub-sectors listed in the Provisional Central Product Classification, i.e. 9401 to 9409, taking into account the interplay with related services, such as construction, engineering, technical testing, and analysis and management consulting services.

Following the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration of December 2005, a group members sent a collective request seeking commitments across all environmental services sub-sectors mentioned above. The request seeks new or improved commitments across the four modes of supply, with a particular emphasis on Mode 3.

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Further reading 

OECD (2005), “Managing Request-Offer Negotiations Under the GATS: The Case of Environmental Services”, OECD Trade Policy Working Paper No. 11, by M. Geloso Grosso, TD/TC/WP(2004)8/FINAL, 15 February 2005

UNCTAD (2003), “Energy and Environmental Services: Negotiating Objectives and Development Priorities”, New York and Geneva, 2003

M. Geloso Grosso (2007), “Regulatory Principles for Environmental Services and the General Agreement on Trade in Services”, ICTSD Issue Paper No. 6, 2007


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Additional information 

Search Documents Online
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  • Background paper on environmental services (Document code S/* and keyword “environmental”)  > search   > help

You can perform more sophisticated searches from the Documents Online search facility by defining multiple search criteria such as document symbol (i.e. code number), full text search or document date.