Stop The Gats-Astrophe – General Agreement on Trade and Services

Stop The Gats-Astrophe – General Agreement on Trade and Services – Brief Article

The General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) is a WTO agreement which exists to remove restrictions and internal government regulations considered to be ‘barriers to trade’ in the area of service delivery. This applies to any public service — from schools, hospitals, banks, rubbish collection and postal services to utilities such as water or energy.

Currently negotiations are underway that pressure governments to drastically reorganise the ownership and delivery of their service industries. At the same time, negotiators from the world’s richest countries are pushing for this liberalisation process to be speeded-up.

Freeing up trade in services at a time when privatisation of the service sector is booming would immensely benefit any multinational. This is already taking place. For example, the UK National Grid delivers electricity in Zambia, Anglian Water supplies water in Chile and Thames Water has contracts in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Unsurprisingly, multinational corporations have been the main driving force behind GATS. But the effects of the process are detrimental to a healthy democracy. Bolivia’s struggle against the government’s sell-off of Cochabamba’s water utilities (see The Ecologist Vol 30 No 4) or General-des-Eaux’s effect in Argentina are two of many examples.

GATS’s irreversibility ensures that once governments open up particular service sectors to WTO rules, there is no going back. In other words, decisions about how to organise service delivery is effectively being removed from the political arena and handed to big business. If this trend continues, citizens will no longer be able to decide whether or not services should be regulated. Imagine such a scenario in the education or health services; because that’s what the corporations are already planning for.

Even though GATS will have a profound impact on people all around the world, few are even aware of its existence. This has to change, and fast. From December 2000 through to March 2001, deliberations on a national, EU and WTO platform will take place, aiming for negotiators to present a completed GATS for parliaments to rubberstamp by the end of 2002.

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