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PPTA calls on government to delay GATS

PPTA calls on government to delay GATS

The New Zealand government should abandon the March 31 deadline to conclude initial negotiations under the General Agreement of Trade in Services (GATS) until a review into the impact of the agreement on New Zealand’s public education system is undertaken, PPTA president Phil Smith said today.

The PPTA last Friday released its submission to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade GATS consultation document.

Mr Smith said PPTA and other education unions believed that public education should be completely excluded from the reach of the GATS agreement and that meant current commitments in private primary, secondary and tertiary education – which could impact on the public education sector - should be withdrawn.

He was concerned that the agreement was not widely known and even less well understood due to the lack of political and public consultation. It was essential that New Zealanders openly debated the GATS and determined what services should be protected before the government made any more commitments under the agreement.

“It worries us that no-one can explain the legal meaning of ‘services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority’ and whether public education, which has many private aspects, such as foreign fee paying students and other privately generated funding, is one of these and therefore outside the reach of GATS.

“What also concerns the PPTA is the fundamentally undemocratic nature of trade negotiations. There should be full public consultation on proposed changes to our existing GATS commitments, and the process of making trade agreements must be democratic.”

Mr Smith said the association, though heartened, also was not convinced that the 10 guiding principles driving New Zealand’s GATS involvement would protect the public sector.

“We are pleased the government is setting out some guiding principles, but their vague nature worries us. How strong are these principles and will they continue to guide the negotiating process as it gathers pace?,” he said.

In the submission, the association also called on the government to exclude all public, cultural and infrastructure services and “make no commitments which would reduce the ability of central and local government to regulate services in the interests of ensuring quality and safety for its citizens”.

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