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New Zealand Attacks Europe’s Public Services

10 February 2003

New Zealand Attacks Europe’s Public Services

Secret documents viewed by Professor Jane Kelsey from ARENA reveal that the New Zealand Government wants Europe to abandon the protection of its public services and utilities from coverage by the free trade rules of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

“This exposes, yet again, the hypocrisy of our Government in the national and international arenas,” says Professor Kelsey in Geneva.

“At home it claims to have ended the market driven approach to public services pursued by previous governments. Yet it wants Europe to expose its public services and utilities to full competition and potentially to foreign control.

“If Europe was to agree to New Zealand’s demand, the GATS ‘most favoured nation’ rule would require it to remove that protection in relation to all countries, including the US and Japan.

“Only one other country – Brazil - seems to have made such an extreme demand. You have to wonder what game the New Zealand Government is playing.”

In 1994 the EC reserved the right in all its member states to maintain public monopolies or grant exclusive rights to private operators in areas like environmental and health services.* New Zealand’s GATS ‘request’ to the EC wants this protection removed.

“This demand to the Europeans also raises questions about what the New Zealand government really plans to do in relation to our own public services.” Kelsey says. "The Government’s recently released consultation document that claims to summarise the requests, fails to mention this extraordinary demand.

“The document is full of double speak," Professor Kelsey asserts. "It says that governments have the right to maintain publicly funded governmental services and not to liberalise them. But it fails to disclose that New Zealand is asking other governments to sign away that right. It claims that its initial offer to other WTO members will make no offer ‘that would limit the government’s right to provide, fund or regulate public services.’

"Does that mean it has one rule for itself and another for the rest of the world? How credible will that be when it has to defend public services against demands we know have been made by the U.S. and the EC, amongst others? Or does it intend to stick to its stated principles only in its initial offer?

“This proves that we simply can’t trust them,” said Professor Kelsey. “What are they trying to hide? Who else have they made such demands of and what else aren’t they telling us? Until we see the actual documentation, which is being kept secret from the New Zealand public, no one can really know what’s going on.”

Ends. Text 430 words 9 February 2003

* According to an explanatory note: “Public utilities exist in sectors such as related scientific and technical consulting services, R&D services on social sciences and humanities, technical testing and analysis services, environmental services, health services, transport services and services auxiliary to all modes of transport. Exclusive rights on such services are often granted to private operators, for instance operators with concessions from public authorities, subject to specific service obligations. Given that public utilities often also exist at the sub-central level, detailed and exhaustive sector-specific scheduling is not practical.”

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