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ARENA applauds growing resistance to GATS

ARENA applauds growing resistance to GATS by local government

The Action, Research and Education Network of Aotearoa (ARENA), a long-time opponent of free-trade rules, has welcomed resolutions from both North Shore City Council and Christchurch City Council to challenge the impact of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) on local government.

Today the Christchurch City Council voted unanimously to write to the Minister of Trade Negotiations (Jim Sutton) and the Minister of Local Government (Chris Carter) objecting to GATS rules that affect local body autonomy and local body governance, on at least nine grounds.

The GATS was first signed in 1994 and forms part of the World Trade Organisation. Negotiations are currently underway to extend its mandate.

Objectionable provisions in the Agreement could strike down a local authority bylaw that discriminates against a foreign-owned corporation and prohibit local government from supporting local businesses. Failure to comply with GATS rules can see trade sanctions imposed by foreign governments whose companies claim they have been disadvantaged.

Like most local authorities, North Shore City Council was not aware that GATS already contains many provisions restricting what local governments can do and that more restrictions are proposed. The government has sought little consultation while the secret negotiations have been underway in Geneva, even though Prime Minister Helen Clark admitted yesterday that caution was needed with some aspects of GATS.

North Shore City Strategy and Finance Committee Chairperson Tony Holman said the council "was far from impressed with the lack of (government) consultation on this critical issue. We support Christchurch City's call for full transparency and consultation on GATS with local government."

Some Waitakere City Councillors have also expressed reservations on the issue, which will be brought to a vote at the Full Council meeting later this month.

GATS is designed to ensure that individual countries forego laws, policies or practices, either national or local, that restrict opportunities for foreign businesses. One hundred and sixty service sectors such as water supply, transport, planning and building controls, waste and sewage disposal environmental policy and even community services are potentially subject to these provisions. All or much of New Zealand's Resource Management Act, conservation programmes and farm administration could be threatened.

"GATS is anti-social, anti-environmental and anti-triple bottom line, not to mention anti-local enterprise, ownership and sovereignty," Tony Holman says. "We don't need to look too far to see the folly of many free-market experiments in our community."

The North Shore City Council is writing to Local Government New Zealand and to the Government endorsing the views expressed by Christchurch City Council.

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