Whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world and hence the world itself. -- Sir Walter Raleigh
Before you finish eating your breakfast this morning, you've depended on half the world. This is the way our universe is structured ... We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognise this basic fact. -- Martin Luther King
Trade matters. Trade has always mattered. But when the international trading system is dominated by the rich and powerful, the poorest communities suffer. -- Christian Aid
Without the enormous pressure generated by the American financial services sector, particularly companies like American Express and Citicorp, there would have been no services agreement ... -- David Hartridge, Director of WTO Services Division
GATS is not just something that exists between governments. It is first and foremost an instrument for the benefit of business. -- European Commission website
If GATS gets the green light Europe can kiss goodbye its public health services. -- Susan George
If the Northern governments and their multinationals get their way, this will be a direct attack on democracy - citizens' power to decide what sort of society they want will be swept from under their feet. -- Clare Joy, WDM
The so-called 'free trade agreements' ... are designed to transfer decision making about people's lives and aspirations into the hands of private tyrannies that operate in secret and without public supervision or control. Not surprisingly, the public doesn't like them. -- Noam Chomsky
GATS is the next millstone on the route of WTO corporate enslavement.
Two years ago civil society destroyed MAI, last year at Seattle protesters caused the WTO talks to collapse and stopped a new round. We now have GATS on the agenda.
GATS, General Agreement on Trade in Services, is intended to force countries, particularly poor southern countries, to open up their service sectors to Big Business.
The definition of services is very wide ranging and includes all of the following:
Under GATS the service sector, primarily in public ownership, is to be opened up for private profit. This 'right' of Big Business to profiteer at our expense is to be protected. Big Business, particularly the US private health care sector, has its greedy eyes on Europe's lucrative public health sector. Tony Blair claims the Health Service is safe under New Labour, not under GATS it ain't.
GATS was agreed within the WTO in 1994. It currently only applies to telecomms and finance, but with the collapse of MAI there is pressure to expand it to all other service sectors.
GATS is being used to force through the WTO backdoor the worst excesses of MAI. GATS threatens national sovereignty by forcing private access to services regardless of the environmental or social consequences. The WTO sees GATS as a means of pushing through measures that could not otherwise be pushed through by national governments. When he was trade Secretary Peter Mandelson asked Big Business to draw up a list of sectors they wished to see liberalised. They were assured their responses would be dealt with in the strictest of confidence.
GATS will allow Big Business unfettered access to key public services in developing countries, to the detriment of the poor and the environment.
GATS will severely limit the government's role in regulation.
Uncontrolled tourism damages fragile areas. Under GATS, governments will have no powers to control the spread of tourism, hotels could be built in fragile areas, golf courses would spring up everywhere. The tourist infrastructure would fall under foreign domination as it would not be possible to specify local control or locals in key posts.
GATS will enable global corporations to roam the planet buying up anything they want as their protected right - libraries, post offices, water, education, hospitals, transport - nothing will be safe from their capricious demands. If governments, once they have signed up to GATS, attempt to intervene, they will face crippling trade sanctions as we have already seen under WTO trade rules.
GATS is a one way process, once signed up there is no get out clause. Governments may change but the new government will not be able to reverse the liberalised GATS policies of the previous administration, if it tried it would face WTO imposed trade sanctions.
In Bolivia, the water industry under World Bank pressure was sold off on the cheap to London-based International Water Ltd. Water prices were hiked, home collection of water made illegal. The net result was riots, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, 6 protesters were killed and many more injured, the state Governor resigned not wishing to be responsible for the 'bloodbath' if the government did not back down. In the face of a popular uprising the government was forced to take the water industry back into state ownership. Under GATS, the state would not have been able to take the water industry back into public ownership.
In Mexico, Metalclad, a US waste management company, wished to build a toxic waste disposal facility in the central Mexican state of San Luis Potos. Strong opposition by the local community forced a halt to the project. The Mexican government were sued under NAFTA and forced to pay out $17 million in compensation. Under GATS, Mexico would have faced WTO imposed trade sanctions.
In Puerto Rico an attempt was made to privatise the telecomms and energy sector. Fearing higher prices, poorer service and massive job losses, mass civil disobedience took place turning the country into a battleground. Shocked at the public outcry the country's president Miguel Angel Rodriguez backed down and has set up a public commission to investigate and come up with alternative proposals for the sectors. Under GATS the protests would have been futile, the president would not have been able to back down.
A secret tribunal ruled that under the North American Free Trade Agreement, a US hazardous waste company had been discriminated against by the Canadian government. The reason? Because of Canada's ban on the export of highly carcinogenic PCB waste. The ban is part of an international environmental protection treaty signed by over 130 countries who agreed to reduce their exports of hazardous wastes to a minimum and instead focus on reprocessing the wastes at home. Tough - the treaty is a 'barrier to trade' and the company can expect compensation of up to $50 million.
Due to an interim ruling by NAFTA the US may have to open its borders to Mexican lorries, regardless of safety concerns. Mexican lorries regularly break US safety regulations. Drivers can drive as long they like, can carry heavier loads and their trucks have common safety problems including faulty brakes, tyres, tail-lights and brake lights. Tough, stopping dodgy trucks entering the US is a barrier to trade.
If GATS is allowed to go ahead the ability to pay will govern who has access to basic services in the future. In Bolivia, privatised water cost a third of the average wage, many peasants were paying more for water than food. In Puerto Rico, poor communities are denied access to water whilst American military bases and luxury tourist resorts have unlimited supplies. In South Africa, protests and strikes have taken place in response to privatisation, with the ANC government taking a heavy stance against protesters. Under GATS these protests would be futile, civil society would lose the ability to regulate the service sector. Any attempts to counter the liberalisation policies agreed under GATS would be met by heavy trade sanctions.
The EU is pushing hard to open up the water industry in developing countries to Big Business exploitation.
The European Union, the world's largest exporter of services, has been pressing hardest for further liberalisation in the service sector. This would open up Europe to trade liberalisation but as the main beneficiaries would be European multinationals, who in any case are driving the EU agenda, it would be seen as a plus, the real prize being Third World markets. Already the National Grid controls electricity supply in Zambia, Anglian Water supplies water in Chile, Thames Water in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, Seven Trent has tried to privatise the water supply in Trinidad and Tobago.
The EU has also been pressing to take over negotiations at the WTO on behalf of member states.
GATS will set in stone the SAPs (Structural Adjustment Programmes) and privatisations being pushed onto Third World countries by IMF and World Bank as a condition of debt relief.
The sell-off of water in Bolivia was pushed by the World Bank.
In Mozambique, a World Bank imposed SAP forced the collapse of the local cashew processing industry, the state railway was privatised under a SAP causing 14,000 out of 23,000 employees to be laid off. Mozambique is one of the world's poorest countries with 2/3 of the population existing on less than 34 pence a day, life expectancy is 38 and falling, AIDS is rife.
Under GATS the poor lose out as it is not profitable to service the poor. Under GATS there is a loss of democracy as democratically elected governments are no longer in control. The only winner is Big Business.
GATS is not the only WTO horror lurking on the horizon, TRIPs (Trade Related Intellectual Property) or patents in common language is another. The Third World is faced with a double whammy - forced to honour First World patents on vital drugs when generic copies are a fraction of the price and the patenting of biological material.
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