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ARENA on government's trade-off of services

ARENA statement on government's trade-off of services

The release today of the government's initial offer to trade-off more of New Zealand’s services in the GATS negotiations at the World Trade Organisation was described as "a half-step forward and a huge leap back" by Professor Jane Kelsey on behalf of the Action, Research and Education Network of Aotearoa (ARENA).

Kelsey believes the grip of free trade evangelists like Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton has been weakened, but they still hold the upper hand.

She says that new commitments have been offered, without any public assessment of their implications. The inclusion of postal and courier services is of particular concern.

The veil of secrecy was partly lifted – "but only after the document was tabled in Geneva. New Zealanders would still be left in the dark had there not been widespread public condemnation of the process and consequences of the GATS agreement.

“Presumably we won’t know what’s in the next stage of deals and trade-offs until those are signed off too. This is hardly a victory for democracy."

Kelsey says the Cabinet ignored widespread calls for a moratorium on the negotiations and a public debate about what is at stake.

“In fact,” says Kelsey, “the Labour government has ignored even the limited demands that it rescind the 1994 commitments made by National. These already sacrifice New Zealand control over our national education and broadcasting systems and are already interfering with the implementation of government policies.”

“The key question has still not been addressed: should our national services be controlled by democratically elected governments in the interests of New Zealanders or by transnational corporations through the World Trade Organisation?

"Cabinet is hiding behind sham consultations conducted by reluctant trade officials which impressed no one, including the Prime Minister.”

Kelsey says the Government is trying to allay public concern by saying it will protect ‘public health, public education and social welfare services’. This wording suggests it may apply only to services provided through public institutions.

Given the extensive privatization of public services, Kelsey insists that it is our national systems of health, education and social welfare services that need protecting.

“Education in private institutions is already committed. This wording implies the government might do the same for private health care.

“And because these assurances won’t be written into New Zealand’s actual schedule of commitments, they have no legal standing. So much for Labour's so-called ‘protection’.”

Kelsey objects that there is no attempt to address well-founded concerns about local government and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The government simply reasserts the status quo.

She points out there is also no promise to protect environmental services, which the Europeans are desperate to have included. These may end up on the table when the negotiations really get tough, especially if the Europeans demand more trade-offs just to keep talking about agriculture.

“There are real fears that the European Union will say ‘jump’ and Sutton will simply ask ‘how high?’”

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