Last week, I was at the WTO public forum, talking about online higher education. One of the themes was that putting education online makes education tradable like it never has been before.
I had been assuming that online education would fall within the GATS as trade in services, but someone raised the point that when the courses are available to users for free (as many of them are now), perhaps that is not "trade" (this suggestion was based in part on the exception for non-commercial government services).
That hadn't occurred to me before, and forced me to re-think things a bit. Eventually, I decided that if the service is transmitted across borders or between people of different nationalities, and there is a payment of any sort somewhere along the way (e.g., if there is a textbook to purchase along with the free course), there is trade in services.
Then I thought, maybe I should check the GATS on this. "Trade in services" is defined as the "supply of a service" between people of different nationalities/across national borders through each of the four modes. And the "supply of a service" is defined as including "the production, distribution, marketing, sale and delivery of a service." So it's not just sale; it's also "distribution" and "delivery" of services.
What I take from this is that there does not need to be any money involved for there to be trade in services. Clearly, when a non-American uses Google for searches, and paid ads pop up, there is trade in services. But I think that similar use of a purely non-commercial site would also be trade in services.
So that's what I'm going with unless someone can point to a different understanding: "Trade" in services just means transmission of services across boundaries or between citizens of different nationalities, regardless of whether the exchange has a commercial component.