Unseen Lawyers Who Are Plotting Future of Britain

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Byline: Amanda Brown

Unelected lawyers at the World Trade Organisation have been given control of significant parts of UK services, including essential public services such as health and education, says a report out today.

The change comes without any public or Parliamentary debate, says the document by international trade campaigners the World Development Movement.

This is the first study of the UK's commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a far reaching, controversial but little understood free trade agreement being negotiated at the WTO in Geneva.

Among the sectors revealed to have already been partially or wholly signed up to GATS are health services, private education, rail maintenance, environmental sewage and sanitation, retail, financial and banking services.

The report is published exactly one month before the end of a Department of Trade and Industry consultation on which services the UK will offer for further liberalisation in trade negotiations starting next April. Sectors being targeted in GATS negotiations for further opening to the free market include postal services, broadcasting and communications, care homes, healthcare and education.

Peter Hardstaff, Head of Policy at the World Development Movement, yesterday said: 'The extent of private provision and ability of the Government to regulate the market in these areas is the subject of fierce public and Parliamentary debate in the UK.

'GATS negotiations could bypass these debates by binding the UK to a set of effectively irreversible liberalisation rules at the WTO.'

GATS rules govern the extent and nature of the involvement of foreign companies in the delivery of services and places strict limits on the ability of governments to regulate the market in service sectors. …