Magazine article New Internationalist

GATS Attacks: Mutant Alien Invaders from Another World!

Magazine article New Internationalist

GATS Attacks: Mutant Alien Invaders from Another World!

Article excerpt

THOSE folks at the World Trade Organization - what will they think of next? First it was the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Now It's the General Agreement on Trade in Services. GATS is a permission slip for transnational corporations to stampede national governments and muscle their way into global markets. It's a clear set of rules for commercializing and privatizing any and all public services - from education to social welfare. Elected officials will be stripped of their power to create public policy on behalf of their citizens in what turns out to be a cleverly packaged, all-out assault on democracy. A final agreement on the GATS is due to be signed in 2005, part of new WTO round launched at Doha, Qatar in November 2001.

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THE WEAPONS

NATIONAL TREATMENT

Forbids governments from favouring domestic firms over foreign-based companies. Governments are prevented from stepping in to support local businesses. The rule applies only to certain services in the GATS now. But the goal is to apply it across the board to all services including social programmes.

MARKET ACCESS

Guarantees irreversible access to the markets of other member countries. Once a country agrees to provide market access for a particular service sector, foreign corporations must be granted unrestricted, irreversible entry into the country. Foreign firms can set up as many operations as they want, even if the increase causes economic, environmental or social damage.

MOST FAVOURED NATION

Grants sovereignty to service firms from all other member countries by ensuring that host governments provide them better-than-equal treatment - regardless of their track records on social, labour or environmental issues. This can prevent any country or regional government from restricting foreign operators into their country using human rights, labour or environmental standards as a criterion.

DOMESTIC REGULATION

Member countries must prove to trade tribunals that their regulations on technical standards, licensing and qualifications are not 'unnecessary barriers to trade in services' and 'are not more burdensome than necessary'. This rule discourages governments from passing and enforcing environmental, labour and public health regulations. Local laws may be ruled illegal under the GATS.

EXPANSION RULE

Member countries commit to successive negotiations to expand the agreement and increase the number and type of services that will be included. Like a ratchet it will constrain future governments' ability to exercise democratic and regulatory authority. …

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