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Open letter on EU requests for services liberalization

A series of confidential documents containing the European Union’s draft requests for services liberalization by 29 member countries of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) was leaked in mid-April. By targeting such vital sectors as water, energy and banking for market-opening, the proposals have prompted more than 90 European civil society groups to register their concerns in an open letter dated 7 May 2002 to the EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and the EU’s Committee 133 dealing with the bloc’s trade policy.

In the letter, which is reproduced below, the signatory organizations call for transparency as the EU decides on its negotiating positions in the ongoing GATS talks and for an assessment of the current or proposed GATS obligations before further commitments are undertaken on services trade.

  

Open letter to Commissioner Lamy and EU member states on EU General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) requests

Dear Commissioner Lamy, dear Committee 133 members,

The EU, in particular the European Commission’s Directorate General Trade and the Committee 133, is at the centre of the GATS “request-offer” process, developing a common position on services liberalization for the 15 EU member states. The requests now being made to non-EU member states, as well as the requests now being received by the EU from other members, have profound implications for citizens everywhere, yet this process has so far been undertaken entirely by the European Commission and the Committee 133 under conditions of total opacity.

As you might know, some NGOs, MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] and the media have obtained a first list of twenty-nine draft EU proposals which request that specific countries increase their GATS commitments in a whole range of sectors. The range of sectors included in these proposals raises concerns about the social, economic, environmental and developmental threats of the services negotiations. We know that more requests are currently being prepared behind closed doors, and will be finalized in the coming months in time for the 30 June 2002 negotiating benchmark.

We are deeply concerned about the lack of transparency around the GATS decision-making process as a whole. So far it has denied the public necessary information and thereby prevented any possibility of citizen oversight or control. Transparency is essential because of the crucial role services, particularly public services, play in all societies. As you are aware, the European Parliament has no right to co-decide on these issues but only to advise and in the present case even that limited right is being denied.  We also regret that business interests are far more closely involved and informed concerning the GATS process than other elements of civil society.

For these reasons, we ask both the Commission and our individual governments to institute a transparent process concerning the GATS negotiations. This would imply publication of all request proposals sent by the EU to other WTO members. This must then be followed by transparency in the “offers” phase of negotiations. We first ask that the European Commission and each member state makes available to parliament and public, details of the requests that have been made to the EC by other WTO members in the current phase of negotiations. This must then be followed by full transparency and real consultation in the EC’s offer-making process.

To begin with May 30th is a reasonable deadline for posting the information currently available about the EC’s requests on the EU website and for governments to make this information directly available to all concerned ministries and to national parliaments. The European Parliament should also be kept fully informed.

Liberalization and market opening of services are sensitive. Our view is that no such opening should take place under GATS without full public disclosure and debate. We refuse to be confronted with a “fait accompli”.

   Finally, we once more urge you to undertake, in cooperation with members of civil society, a full evaluation and impact assessment of the consequences of the current or proposed GATS obligations BEFORE proceeding with further GATS commitments.

  

For the full list of signatories and more information, see www.gatswatch.

 

From TWE No. 279 (16-30 April 2002)

 


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