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VUWSA opposes further NZ commitments to the GATS!

Submission of the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association on the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services)

Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA) is the official representative of over 16,000 students studying at Victoria. As a representative of tertiary students, our organisation opposes education being signed up to international trade agreements such as this. We are also concerned about the effect this agreement will have on other public services in Aotearoa.


In the 1994 Uruguay round of trade liberalisation, New Zealand went further than any other OSCD country and signed its primary, secondary and tertiary education services up to the GATS agreement. Although it currently refers only to private education that means little in New Zealand, given that private tertiary providers enjoy similar subsidies to public ones and our education system runs on the basis of open competition.

GATS means the New Zealand government cannot intervene in the education system in ways that might disadvantage foreign private providers, such as:

* The current Labour-led government cannot limit the number of Universities in New Zealand under the GATS. If a private provider from overseas wishes to seek approval to use the term ‘university’ or limit the number of private entities seeking such approval because such limits are seen as a barrier to trade in education services.

* Foreign private education providers cannot be denied the same subsidies as local private providers under GATS, where they offer NZQA approved courses, even if they employ only foreign education personnel and that subsidy money goes straight out of the country.

If the government decided to ignore the rules of the GATS agreement, it could end up being taken to the WTO and being forced to back down or else face trade sanctions. To date this has only been a potential threat. However current international negotiations for further commitments to the GATS and more extensive rules for domestic regulation are likely to cause major problems for the New Zealand education system, particularly in tertiary education.

Other Public Services

The GATS agreement is a very undemocratic. Current negotiations are happening in secret with minimal public consultation. The public is unlikely to know what further services are signed up to this agreement until after the final commitments have been made. However commitments made by this government to the GATS will be binding on future governments. The agreement is designed to give rights and protections to large international companies, and these protections are made at the expense of people’s rights to high quality and accessible public services. The underlying principal and ideology of this agreement is that the market is the most effective way of providing services in society. What the policies of successive New Zealand governments since 1984 have proved is that the open market is not the most effective way to provide pubic services.

Other areas potentially affected by further commitments to the GATS are - Health (all sectors), Transport and public services provided by local bodies (public water supply, waste management and similar services).

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

VUWSA is committed to principles and objective of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The GATS is a binding international treaty that overrides Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The GATS potentially undermines promotion of the Maori language and culture, culturally-appropriate models of development and ensuring that foreign investment applications don’t impede Tiriti claims.

Little to no consultation has occurred between the State and Maori regarding this international Treaty. For the government to commit further to the GATS without consultation with Maori, would be a serious breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.


VUWSA does not at present have an official stance on Globalisation and Trade Liberalisaton. However VUWSA does have major concerns with public services being signed up to international agreements like the GATS agreement. We oppose the fact that New Zealand’s education system has already been signed up to the GATS agreement, and demand the government remove these commitments immediately.

We also oppose further NZ commitments to the GATS agreement. Particularly when negotiations are being done in secrete and little to no genuine consultation with the New Zealand public has occurred.

28.February 2003

Contact: Nick Kelly

VUWSA PO Box 600 Wellington

Ph 473 8566 or Home Ph 971 4294

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