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Doha Meeting Ends With NZ Public Services Threat

Doha Meeting Ends With Nz Public Services Under Threat

Media Release 13 November 2001: For Immediate Release


While the spotlight is on the WTO meeting in Doha, negotiations have been underway since early 2000 to open the “services markets” of every WTO member, including New Zealand, through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

‘This is big business’, said Professor Jane Kelsey, for the Action Research and Education Network of Aotearoa (ARENA). Services transactions account for more than a quarter of world trade, or about US$1.4 trillion annually.

‘There is now clear evidence that major transnationals and their parent governments have been colluding on strategies to remove key services from the effective control of national governments’.

BBC television's Newsnight programme recently obtained minutes documenting 14 secret meetings between Britain's chief GATS negotiators and the movers and shakers of the Euro-American business world, whose members represent over US$100 billion in assets. These indicate that UK officials disclosed confidential negotiating documents and inside information on other countries’ negotiating positions.*

The minutes note that ‘the pro-GATS case was vulnerable when the NGOs asked for proof of where the economic benefits of liberalization lay.’

The goal of the GATS is to outlaw every measure that favours local providers and obstructs transnational providers. Major targets are domestic regulations, local content requirements, and preferential subsidies. Governments are under pressure to commit new services sectors to coverage by the agreement.

‘When free trade rules come to govern fundamental social needs like education, health, post, electricity, telephones, prisons, postal services, banking, transport, roading, water supply and waste disposal, they invade core areas of government responsibility. Legitimate policy choices are trumped by agreements that promote the interests of foreign-owned transnationals’.

The main push is coming from the mega-firms in North America and Europe. Despite their denials, their prize target is the privatization of public services, especially health and education. Investment houses like Merill Lynch predict that public education will be globally privatized over the next decade and say there is an untold amount of profit to be made when this happens.

‘It’s deeply ironic that the Labour/Alliance government is helping to lead the charge at the WTO, while it talks about nation building, honouring the Treaty of Waitangi and restoring public services at home’, said Professor Kelsey.

‘GATS is a major reason why the government hasn’t implemented its promised local content broadcasting quotas. It’s also likely to create major havoc for the new Tertiary Education Advisory Commission proposals. But the government’s not prepared to admit this publicly.’

Growing awareness of the threat from GATS has sparked massive campaigns internationally, and growing protest within Aotearoa New Zealand, especially to protect public health and education, water, culture and local government from the grip of free trade rules.

‘Even if Doha fails to produce a new round, the anti-GATS campaign around the world, and in New Zealand, is guaranteed to intensify. The goal is not simply to stop further expansion of the agreement, but to demand an end to this perverse way of viewing people’s basic rights to essential services’, said Professor Kelsey.

Contact persons: Jane Kelsey, (09) 579 1030, 021 765 055 Leigh Cookson (03) 339 6341; 025 662 7174

*The “Observer” journalist’s article reporting on these minutes is available on request from Arena Jane Kelsey is the author of a series of books about New Zealand’s experience of globalization, including the best-selling “The NZ Experiment”.

© Scoop Media

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