Oportunidades y Riesgos en la Liberalización del Comercio de Servicios: El Caso de Guatemala
[Opportunities and Risks in the Liberalisation of Trade in Services: The Case of Guatemala]
There is now a consensus that focusing on trade in services amounted to a significant paradigm shift in thinking about international trade in Guatemala. First, international trade is customarily thought of in terms of trade in goods, as until recently it had been assumed that services are generally not tradable. Second, significant liberalization of trade in goods can take place through tariff reductions and the removal of a variety of explicit barriers to trade; by contrast, conceived of as barriers to international trade per se. The shift in thinking has advanced slowly and, for this reason, history shows that the liberalization of services trade has not received the attention it fully deserves. Thus there are now opportunities that can be exploited by liberalizing trade in services. The risks and benefits of trade in services in terms of the sustainability of the country’s development process are also discussed in the paper. Highlights of the linkage between trade in services and the sustainability of development include: 1. Economic: Trade in services requires and promotes the accumulation of human capital and, therefore, it complements the country’s poverty reduction strategy. 2. Social: It facilitates decentralization of socio-economic activities and helps in rebuilding the country’s social fabric. 3. Environmental: The production of services is generally clean and does not lead to significant environmental degradation. In this connection, it was pointed out that international trade in services is evolving on two fronts simultaneously: trading is easier but quality requirements are constantly increasing. The latter trend implies that the valued added in a product must be ever greater, and that client service and innovation become important factors in business choices and conducts. An underlying issue addressed throughout the paper is how Guatemala can take advantage of the emerging opportunities already mentioned. The study focused on call centres, BPO and medical services, as these activities hold great developmental potential but they have not been studied in depth in Guatemala. The general conclusion of the paper is that international trade in services, specifically in the context of call centres, BPO and medical services has great potential to contribute to the country’s development but only if international negotiations are conducted judiciously and successfully, and if binding constraints arising at home (e.g., labour market rigidity, poor education outcomes and uncertain rule of law) are also addressed as part of a comprehensive programme for sustainable development.
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