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Council concerned about GATS


Chch City Council concerned about global Trade in Services deal

Christchurch City Council is strongly urging the Government not to sign away local councils¡¯ rights to make decisions about how essential services are provided.

The City Council, like many other local bodies in New Zealand and overseas, are growing increasingly concerned about how their governments are handling an international trade agreement called GATS ¨C the General Agreement on Trade in Services. The deal applies to all levels of government in signatory countries.

The GATS deal was signed in 1994, one of the agreements promoted by the World Trade Organisation. Its rules apply to 160 service sectors, many of which are the responsibility of local government. Examples are powers such as giving preference to local employment, buying locally made goods or favouring local suppliers and regulating services such as waste disposal, building control and transport. Governments now are being encouraged to increase the range of services covered by the deal.

According to a report discussed at the CCC monthly meeting on Thursday (12 December), the GATS aim of getting ¡°a progressively higher level of liberalisation¡± in the service sector could well also cover water and sewerage, waste, management, zoning regulations, and library and other community services such as childcare.

Councillor Alister James, chairman of the Council¡¯s Strategy and Finance Committee, says that as new sectors are added to the GATS agreement, the Government can limit the amount of access overseas providers have.

¡°But all limits and exceptions must be set when a country initially offers a sector,¡± he says. ¡°After that, you can only get new limits if you negotiate compensation with all the countries which have a right to enter that market. That would be virtually impossible, so you can see it¡¯s really important to get it right before a sector becomes part of the GATS system.¡±

The Christchurch City Council wants the Government to slow down and take another look at the way World Trade Organisation deals have been working so far.

About GATS, the CCC says it is wrong that local government has not had a chance to influence the talks and how they are being approached. It believes local services and rules about essential services should be made locally and that the Government must exclude all public services from GATS.

It wants the Government to try to make sure the World Trade Organisation has no ability to overturn New Zealand laws and practices that protect health, the environment, development and human rights.

¡ñ The report considered by the Council, written by Director of Policy Mary Richardson, is available on the web at www.ccc.govt.nz/Council/Proceedings/2002/December/StrategyFinance/GeneralAgreement.pdf

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