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Public consultation better than secrecy

Public consultation better than secrecy

The government’s decision to make public its initial offer in the latest round of General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) negotiations is a positive step away from the traditional secrecy surrounding international trade negotiations, PPTA president Phil Smith said today.

Mr Smith said the union was disappointed the government hadn’t delayed its initial offer to WTO members – a move PPTA and other unions had campaigned for to allow for more public consultation.

However, it was pleased that there had been some consultation with the sector leading up to the offer and that the government had reaffirmed its commitment to ongoing consultation with interested groups.

He added that the union was happy that the government had explicitly stated that public education was not included in the offer and that it was interpreting Article 1.3 in a way that should allow it to avoid subjecting public education and other public services to the same disciplines as private services with purely commercial objectives.

“Article 1.3 has concerned PPTA and other education unions throughout negotiations.

“We are pleased that the government has established its interpretation of this article as meaning that it can provide, regulate and fund public services in a manner that it determines best meets New Zealand society’s needs.

“However, Article 1.3 also contains the proviso that public services must also be ‘supplied neither on a commercial basis, nor in competition with one or more service suppliers’.

“Our concern is whether a panel of trade experts would consider, for example, whether New Zealand’s public education sector – with its commercial aspects such as competition for students and the ability to recruit foreign fee-paying students – would be completely exempt from GATS rules.

Mr Smith said PPTA would continue to campaign to protect public education from GATS as well as publicise the issues about the negotiation process that concerned it. “If these issues are in the public arena, there is less room for misunderstandings and scaremongering.”

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