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Government's rush to GATS deadline unnecessary

Government's rush to GATS deadline unnecessary

The New Zealand government's rush to meet last week's WTO deadline for tabling GATS offers wasn't necessary. In fact, it wasn't even a deadline, Dr Jane Kelsey from the Action, Research and Education Network of Aotearoa (ARENA) said today.

“ Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi of the World Trade Organisation, confirmed what we always suspected – that very few other countries have met what the government claimed was a 31 March deadline.

Kelsey says the New Zealand government could easily have responded to demands from ARENA, Maori, trade unions, city councils, the Greens and many groups and individuals that it conduct the kind of open and informed debate that NZers have every right to expect within a democracy.

"Instead, she says, "they bull-dozed through a farcical ‘consultation’ process which lacked any credibility, claiming they had to meet the deadline.”

Speaking at the opening of the latest session of the Trade Negotiations Committee in Geneva, the WTO’s Director-General described the 31 March cut-off as "‘only the start of a new phase of negotiations and not a deadline." Only 12 of the WTO’s 145 members tabled offers by that date. Further offers are expected to dribble in until the WTO Ministerial meeting in Cancun (Mexico) in September.

Kelsey says “Dr Supachai confirmed another of our suspicions – that services offers are seen as ‘an inducement’ for concessions on agriculture, especially coming from Cairns Group countries like New Zealand. Pressure for these trade-offs is bound to intensify, given the failure of the 31 March deadline in the agricultural negotiations.”

Significantly, Supachai also urged governments to “make every effort to ensure that negotiations on domestic regulation, emergency safeguard measures, subsidies and government procurement progress in a satisfactory manner towards their conclusion”. These are aimed at further restricting central and local governments’ right to regulate or fund services, or to support local economic development through their purchasing policies.

Kelsey says this highlights the conflict between these negotiations and the assertions from the New Zealand government that its right to regulate and to control public subsidies remains sacrosanct. This is a further danger of the GATS negotiations which will be strongly challenge in the months ahead.

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