WTO Still Actively Working Against Humanity
WTO Plans to Force Privatization of Services Such as Education, Health Care
Here are some excerpts from a report by Nick Mathiason that appeared in The Observer (UK).
by Nick MathiasonOne year after world trade talks collapsed under a shower of rubber bullets in the so-called Battle of Seattle, the architects of international privilege are nervously formulating their next steps.
In an attempt to prise open lucrative business sectors, the World Trade Organisation, international trade ministers and European Union representatives will meet in Geneva next March. At the top of the agenda will be a bid to thrash out the next stage of the General Agreement on Trade in Services, or Gats.
Already the forces of opposition - unions and environmentalists - are mobilising, which is hardly surprising because what lies at stake under Gats is the prospect of government services, such as health and education provision throughout Europe, being forcibly handed over to the private sector.
In developing countries, Gats will enable overseas monopolies to supply water, electricity and public transport projects in place of state-controlled monopolies.
Individual countries will be hard-pressed to protect these sectors. If they do, democratically elected governments risk facing the wrath of the unelected, secretive WTO in the shape of trade sanctions. For the first time, the body will be able to scrutinise domestic policy to ascertain whether it is 'anti-competitive'.
Said Claire Joy of the World Development Movement, who fears the plan could be harmful: 'The WTO sees the service sector as an untapped resource, and their definition of services is very loose. The distribution of bananas is included under Gats. If bananas can be included as a service, it really does leave the playing field wide open.'
Gats was born in 1994 as the final act of the Uruguay round of international trade talks. In Seattle last year, the idea was to flesh out Gats. That had been shelved. Until now.
Outwardly the WTO and the EU play down its importance. This agreement, they say, is about allowing architects, lawyers and other professionals to open practices in any country throughout the world. It is about facilitating the growth of financial services and provision of energy.
The next stage, in Geneva, will concentrate on reaching international agreement on which service sectors will be offered for so-called liberalisation.
But the WTO has never been known for its openness. Two influential lobbying groups have been working quietly behind the scenes to persuade the United States and the EU to allow service-based multinational companies greater privilege in politically sensitive areas.
The Coalition of Service Industries is a US-based group lobbying Washington politicians to allow it to target European health and education provision.
Its chairman, Dean O'Hare, is president and chief executive of Chubb Corporation, one of the world's biggest insurance companies. O'Hare told a Congressional hearing last year: 'We believe we can make much progress in the negotiations to allow the opportunity for US businesses to expand into foreign healthcare markets.'
He has railed against the public sector having responsibility for European healthcare, as well as attacking 'excessive privacy and confidentiality regulations' that protect citizens and make it harder for US firms to gain a monopoly in this market.
Healthcare and education are seen as the top prizes, since the EU spends 15 per cent of its gross domestic product on those sectors - mostly money tied up in state provision, voluntary and non-profit making organisations.
The EU Trade Commissioner argues that EU member states will protect their own public sectors under Gats, while simultaneously having the freedom to break into public sector markets in those 'third countries'.
The Observer asked ESF chairman Andrew Buxton, who used to head Barclays Bank, whether Gats will enable US healthcare providers entry into European markets.
Buxton said: 'I'm not saying there's no prospect. But liberalisation of the service sector will see big benefits ... London law firms' and London accountants' focus is on energy. Equally, the developing world needs energy provision and power distribution. It's one of the big drivers in Africa.'
Thus it would appear that liberalisation of key EU public sector areas is on the agenda. The way Gats could achieve this is through Article 6.4, which is now, like the rest of the agreement, merely a 'statement of principle'. This says that trade in services should be developed and that individual nations' rules and regulations governing service sector trade 'must be least trade restrictive' and 'not more burdensome than necessary'.
Seattle may have been a disaster for the WTO, and no high-level trade talks are scheduled. Yet it is putting on pressure to privatize sectors that were previously considered untouchable.
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