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Government urged to open the GATS

Government urged to open the GATS

North Shore City Council is keeping the pressure on Government to be more open about its negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and plans to raise the issue at the local government sector's annual conference in July.

The council had previously expressed concerns about the secretive way the Government was negotiating with others in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and its far-reaching implications for local government in New Zealand.

Tony Holman, who chairs North Shore City's strategy and finance committee, says his council is seeking to put forward a remit on the issue to the annual conference of Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), the lobby group representing the interests of the country's local authorities.

"We want LGNZ to reaffirm to the Government the request that, at all times, it fully informs the local government sector on negotiations relating to GATS.

"This remit (copy attached) addresses the concerns set out in our recent letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Phil Goff," Councillor Holman says.

"By proposing this remit, we're seeking support from our fellow councils to send a strong message to Government that we want to be involved in decisions affecting the future of our communities."

GATS was signed in 1994 under the WTO which administers the agreement designed to encourage freedom of international trade and removal of regulations deemed obstructive or anti-competitive. GATS applies to 160 service sectors, many of which are the responsibility, directly or indirectly, of either central or local government. They include water services, transport, planning and building controls, community services including libraries and waste disposal.

Tony Holman says it is essential that GATS places no restrictions on local authorities such as North Shore City to pursue social and environmental goals, or to enable foreign companies to take over such services.

"It is inappropriate that local authorities be constrained by an agreement to which we're not a party and which puts into question our mandate to carry out policies and programmes for which we were elected by the community.

"We welcome the Government's recent, thought belated, decision to make public its initial offer in the latest round of GATS negotiations. This approach must be maintained to ensure full transparency and consultation on GATS with local government," he says.

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