The Uruguay Round of trade negotiations, from 1986 to 1994, marked, to a great extent, the debut of services in trade negotiations. Since then, trade in services has become an indispensable element of such endeavors, be they bilateral, regional, or multilateral. Over time, what used to be an arcane issue, whose secrets were to be revealed only to a few initiates, has been attracting an increasing attention on the part not only of policy-makers and trade negotiators but also of businesspeople, researchers, and civil society. Why this increasing interest? There are several reasons for this. For one, services play a central role in economic activity in virtually all countries of the world. Their participation in gross domestic product (GDP) ranges, on average, from 50 percent in low-income countries to 54 percent in middle-income economies, and to 72 percent in rich countries. The importance of employment in services activities is no less impressive, averaging 72 percent of total employment in high-income economies.
Another reason for this increasing interest in services trade is its rising share in investment and trade. In 2006 commercial services exports, measured by traditional balance of payments standards, reached almost $2.8 trillion. In spite of this highly significant increase in absolute value, trade in services still accounts for about 20 percent of world trade. These figures highly underestimate the importance of services for world trade, however.