| US: For
ambitious GATS talks, but not in air, maritime
by Chakravarthi Raghavan
Geneva, 6 Oct 2000 - The United States has put forward at the Special Session of the GATS Council, which is running the new round of talks, proposals calling for an ambitious agenda for breaking down existing restrictions, but has left little doubt it does not want air or maritime transport services brought in.
The US paper also calls for meaningful liberalisation, with broader and more transparent commitments in GATS schedules, broader sectoral coverage, improved classification to reflect the reality of the market place, and taking as the starting point for liberalisation, current restrictions sector by sector.
It also wants the request-and-offer approach to be supplemented by other approaches -model sets or templates of GATS commitments for key sectors, use of clusters of service activities to break out of restrictive categories created by the present WTO/GATS classification (in W/120) and negotiating cross-sectoral or horizontal commitments.
Other papers tabled before the GATS Special Session, but some of which were not officially made available by the WTO, include a paper by Mauritius on behalf of the African Group, as well as a paper tabled by the EC, Hong Kong China, Japan, South Korea, Norway and Singapore, calling for the new round to address the issue of maritime transport services (which the US blocked from liberalisation earlier).
Meanwhile, it is apparent that the WTO and its trade officials are getting worried at the level of public discussions and debates already under way on the effects of GATS on public services of countries.
Trade officials, without wanting or willing to be quoted, about the growing debates in several industrialized countries about the likely effects of GATS and its thrust to open up markets on a variety of service activities including such activities as education, health etc.
Several of these concerns have arisen in countries where several of these activities are provided by public sector enterprises, sometimes also supplemented by or competing domestic private sector services, but which if opened up to foreign competition and service suppliers from abroad may result in reducing the overall level of availability.
An example is the French health service, which by all measurements, including by the World Health Organization, is superior to that available to the public in the US or even in the UK with its once very much valued health service.
Trade officials in Geneva are trying to steer media against such reports or assessments, pointing to Art 1.3 (b) of GATS which says that services include any service in any sector except services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority, as implying that the fears being raised by non-government organizations and media in Canadian and French media are misconceived.
However, Art.1.3c of the GATS also makes clear that a service supplied in the exercise of governmental authority means any service which is supplied neither on a commercial basis nor in competition with one or more service suppliers.
When questioned whether such a provision would not enable foreign corporations wishing to supply education or special health services in a country government, through a public sector entity, and where a private domestic entity also provides that service, hard put trade officials fall back on the free trade theology that the competition is good for the country!
The study for the Canadian non-government think tank, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, by Mr. Scott Sinclair (see separate stories in SUNS # 4755 and 4756) has raised several of these issues and the moves and plans of the major industrialized nations to further the interests of their corporations.-SUNS4756
The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.
[c] 2000, SUNS - All rights reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or service without specific permission from SUNS. This limitation includes incorporation into a database, distribution via Usenet News, bulletin board systems, mailing lists, print media or broadcast. For information about reproduction or multi-user subscriptions please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org