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Government in 'bum' rush to GATS

Government in 'bum' rush to GATS

Green Party Co-Leader Rod Donald today called on the Government to heed the multitude of warnings not rush headlong into lodging a GATS offer on Monday.

Signatory countries face a deadline of March 31 to make offers to open up service sectors in accordance to the principles of the GATS agreement, a deadline that the Council of Trade Unions, Local Government New Zealand, and many others are urging the Government to ignore.

"The public only had 25 days to comment on an agreement that is not only incredibly complicated but has dire consequences if we get it wrong," said Mr Donald.

"In 1994, when the National Government rushed into making a GATS offer, we lost our legal ability to introduce mandatory local content broadcasting quotas - a commitment that this Labour Government has come to rue."

Mr Donald said in the haste to submit the GATS proposal, the Government will only create more questions, not answers to pressing domestic issues.

"What will it be this time? Will they give away our right to regulate foreign investment by abolishing the Overseas Investment Commission? Will they make commitments in energy services that prevent us from re-regulating the electricity sector? Or will they make commitments in education services that threaten the integrity of the public education system?

"We call on the Government to hold fire until there is a proper public debate in New Zealand about GATS.

"If the Government is determined to stick with their ridiculous deadline then at the very least they should include reservations to protect early-childhood education. It should not be up to three trade experts in Geneva to decide whether we can support our public education system without being forced to hand over public funds to private profit-driven education operators."

Mr Donald questions whether the Government will even let the public see the initial offer.

"It's extraordinary that the Howard Government has already shown greater commitment to transparency than this Government by announcing that they will reveal Australia's initial GATS offer to the Australian public.

"I question what our Trade minister Jim Sutton is afraid of by conducting these GATS deliberations, which have such huge domestic implications, in relative secrecy."

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