ATTENTION --- Civil Society Activists Around the World!
Although the Battle of Seattle was successful in preventing a new comprehensive round of global trade talks from going ahead, this did not mean there would not be trade negotiations at the WTO. On the contrary, a whole new set of WTO talks on global trade in 'services' began in February, 2000, with formal negotiations due to begin this spring after a crucial stocktaking session is completed at the end of March. These so called GATS negotiations [General Agreement on Trade in Services] could have a dramatic and profound effect on a wide range of public services and citizens' rights all over the world.
Pasted below is a statement, Stop the GATS Attack Now!, which has been prepared by an international network of civil society organizations working on WTO issues. As with previous initiatives like No New Round! and Shrink or Sink!, we hope this statement will help to launch and link together a series of country-based campaigns on the GATS negotiations all over the world.
We would greatly appreciate it if your organization would consider signing-on to this statement as soon as possible. The procedures for doing so are outlined below. It is our intention to collect sign-ons from civil society organizations in as many countries as possible before formally launching the statement in mid-March prior to the GATS stocktaking meetings in Geneva later that month. So, please let us know soon if your organization can sign-on!
Instructions on how your organization can sign the letter: (This is an organizational sign-on letter only. We will not be adding individuals to it)
1) Send an e-mail to email@example.com
As civil society groups fighting for democracy through fair trade and investment rules, we reject the outright dismissal by the World Trade Organization [WTO], some of its member governments and allied corporations of the vital concerns raised by civil society before, during and after Seattle. The smoke and pepper spray had barely lifted from the streets of Seattle when the WTO launched new negotiations to expand global rules on cross border trade in services in a manner that would create vast new rights and access for multinational service providers and newly constrain government action taken in the public interest world wide. These talks would radically restructure the role of government regarding public access to essential social services world wide to the detriment of the public interest and democracy itself.
Initiated in February 2000, these far-reaching negotiations are aimed at expanding the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services [GATS] regime so as to subordinate democratic governance in countries throughout the world to global trade rules established and enforced by the WTO as the supreme body of global economic governance. What's more, these GATS 2000 negotiations are taking place behind closed doors based on collusion with global corporations and their extensive lobbying machinery.
The existing GATS regime of the WTO, initially established in 1994, is already comprehensive and far reaching. The current rules seek to phase out gradually all governmental "barriers" to international trade and commercial competition in the services sector. The GATS covers every service imaginable - including public services - in sectors that affect the environment, culture, natural resources, drinking water, health care, education, social security, transportation services, postal delivery and a variety of municipal services. Its constraints apply to virtually all government measures affecting trade-in-services, from labor laws to consumer protection, including regulations, guidelines, subsidies and grants, licencing standards and qualifications, and limitations on access to markets, economic needs tests and local content provisions.
Currently, the GATS rules apply to all modes of supplying or delivering a service including foreign investment, cross-border provisions of a service, electronic commerce and international travel. Moreover, the GATS features a hybrid of both a "top-down" agreement [where all sectors and measures are covered unless they are explicitly excluded] and a "bottom-up" agreement [where only sectors and measures which governments explicitly commit to are covered]. What this means is that presently certain provisions apply to all sectors while others apply only to those specific sectors agreed to.
The new GATS negotiations taking place now in the World Trade Organization are designed to further facilitate the corporate takeover of public services by:
1) Imposing new and severe constraints on the ability of governments to maintain or create environmental, health, consumer protection and other public interest standards through an expansion of GATS Article VI on Domestic Regulation. Proposals include a 'necessity test' whereby governments would bear the burden of proof in demonstrating that any of their countries laws and regulations are the 'least trade restrictive,' regardless of financial, social, technological or other considerations.
The chief beneficiaries of this new GATS regime are a breed of corporate service providers determined to expand their global commercial reach and to turn public services into private markets all over the world. Not only are the services industries the fastest growing sector of the new global economy, but health, education and water are shaping up to be the most lucrative of all "services." Health care is considered to be a 3.5 trillion dollar market worldwide, while education is targeted as a 2 trillion and water a 1 trillion dollar annual market. The chief executive officer of U.S. based Columbia/HCA, the world's largest for-profit hospital corporation, insists that health care is a business no different than the airline or ballbearing industry and vows to destroy every public hospital in North America. Investment houses like Merrill Lynch predict that public education will be globally privatized over the next decade, declaring that untold profits can be made through the process. Meanwhile, water giants like Vivendi and Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux of France are working hand-in-glove with the World Bank to compel many Third World governments to privatize their water services.
Through powerful lobby machines like the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries and the European Services , these and other transnational corporations have effectively set the agenda for the GATS 2000 negotiations.
If achieved, this corporate GATS 2000 agenda will amount to a frontal attack on the fundamental social rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its accompanying Covenants and Charters. Not only will foreign-based, for-profit corporations be able to access public dollars to takeover public hospitals and schools, but regulations on health and education standards will be undermined by global trade rules under the WTO. Chains of foreign-based, for-profit corporations would be able to invade the childcare, social security and prison systems in all WTO member countries. Our parks, wildlife and old growth forests could all become contested areas as global corporate 'environmental service' providers compete with one another to eexploit their resourses. Meanwhile, unlimited access to foreign-based corporations would have to be given regarding municipal contracts for construction, sewage, garbage disposal, sanitation, tourism and water services.
For many Third World countries, this invasion of peoples' basic rights is not new. During the past two decades or more, the structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have been used to force many governments in the South to dismantle their public services and allow foreign-based healthcare, education and water corporations to provide services on a for-profit basis. Under the proposed GATS rules, developing countries will experience a further dismantling of local service providers, restrictions on the build up of domestic service providers, and the creation of new monopolies dominated by corporate service providers based in the North. By dramatically increasing market control by foreign service corporations and by threatening the future of public services, the GATS 2000 agenda would trigger a global assault on the commons and democracy both in the North and the South. Moreover, the binding enforcement mechanisms of the WTO will ensure that this agenda is not only implemented, but rendered irreversible. The time has come to 'Stop the GATS Attack!'
We, therefore, call upon our governments to immediately invoke a moratorium on the GATS 2000 negotiations and devote the remaining two years of the scheduled talks to carrying out the following tasks:
[a] conduct a full and complete assessment of the impacts of the current GATS regime and the implications of the proposed GATS 2000 rules on domestic social, environmental and economic laws, policies and programs with citizens' groups in all member countries;
Finally, we call on our governments to end all IMF, World Bank and Multilateral Development Bank pressure on developing countries to privatize public services, especially in the area of education, health and water.
Organizations currently signed-on to the "Stop the GATS Attack" Statement (as of February 20, 2001)
APEC Monitor NGO Network
* Corporate Europe Observatory
Alliance for Democracy
Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees
* Focus on the Global South
* World Development Movementy
Margrete Strand Rangnes, Field Director, Public Citizen Global Trade Watch, 215 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, Washington DC, 20003 USA, firstname.lastname@example.org, + 202-454-5106, + 202-547 7392 (fax)