The Effect of WTO Membership on Service Sector Trade Liberalization

Chase Englund *
Author Information & Copyright
1University of Maryland - College Park, College Park Maryland 20742, United States.
*Corresponding Author: Chase Englund, E-mail:

© Copyright 2022 Jungseok Research Institute of International Logistics and Trade. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Aug 16, 2021; Revised: Oct 01, 2021; Accepted: Oct 28, 2021

Published Online: Feb 16, 2022


A large portion of labor and trade in most countries is devoted to the service sector, and thus service sector impacts are crucial to a full understanding of the effects of WTO membership. The effect of WTO membership on trade volume has been subject to debate in the past, but critically, these studies have failed to examine service sector trade specifically. Conventional wisdom would seem to suggest that WTO membership should have boosted services trade, particularly after the implementation of the GATS in 1995. However, the relationship has yet to be rigorously tested. Here, I use data comprising 178 countries across a span ranging from 1995 until 2015 to examine the impact that WTO membership, and specifically WTO accession, has had on service sector trade levels relative to goods trade levels after the adoption of GATS. Statistical tests yield weak evidence for any significant relationship between WTO membership and service sector trade, with some possible exceptions for states that underwent many rounds of negotiations. This exception is explored further through a comparison of the WTO accessions of China and Vietnam. However, even in these extreme cases, it is difficult to find clear evidence of service sector liberalization. Overall, the findings imply that, in almost all cases, WTO rules and accessions have underemphasized service sector trade in favor of agricultural and goods trade, generating lopsided impacts to trade efficiency.

Keywords: WTO; service sector; liberalization; GATS; accession; trade