The European Regional Executive Committee of Public Services International, EUREC, meeting in Geneva on April 18-19, 2001, having discussed the World Trade Organisation, WTO's, General Agreement on Trade in Services, GATS, adopts the following policy:
The purpose of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is to improve trade and investment conditions, stabilise trade relations and achieve progressive liberalisation of the service sector through subsequent rounds of negotiations. The agreement is about trade and not about social and environmental concerns.
It is to be noted that the GATS agreement does not define what is meant by ‘services', which means that the list of possible services is virtually endless and reaches into the realm of services not yet invented. It is also to be noted that commitments made regarding liberalisation of services under the GATS are effectively irreversible. Previous commitments can only be rolled back or recalled if compensation e.g. liberalisation in other areas are provided.
It is further to be noted that the language of the GATS agreement concerning the rights of member governments to maintain essential services such as health, education and water in the public domain in their countries lacks clarity and allows for pressure from other member states and/or business interests to have such services privatised.
The current GATS negotiations started in February 2000. Thanks to the fact that further negotiations on trade in services were part of the “built-in agenda”, the failed Seattle Round of the WTO did not have much impact on the proceedings. Basic services necessary for the advancement of human life, health and development can in fact still be traded in the WTO as any other service product.
Given this situation, EUREC is seriously concerned that the GATS agreement serves as a window of opportunity for strong business interests without necessary regard for general human needs and development.
The EUREC therefore calls on European member governments and the European Union to devote the remaining two years of the scheduled GATS talks to carry out the following tasks:
- Conduct a full assessment of the impact of the current GATS regime and the implications of the proposed GATS 2000 rules on domestic social, environmental and economic laws, policies and programmes with unions and citizens' groups in all European member countries;
- Reaffirm the role and responsibility of governments to provide public services ensuring basic rights and needs of their citizens in the new global economy, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, related UN Covenants and Charters, and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up;
- Declaw the existing GATS regime by removing components like Article VI and the Working Party on Domestic Regulation that give foreign member governments and transnational corporations the power to undermine public interest laws, policies and programs such as quality standards for health care or safety standards for transportation;
- Ensure the right of governments to public services such as healthcare, education, social security, culture, environment, transportation, housing, energy and water. Changes in GATS call for active involvement by individual governments;
- Provide concrete incentives and resources, especially for governments in the South, to further develop and strengthen the provision of public services based on peoples' needs rather than on their ability to pay;
- Develop mechanisms for effective participation by unions and citizen organisations in both the formulation of their government positions and in the negotiation of any global trade and investment rules in future regarding cross-border services;
- Secure the rights and responsibilities of governments to enact and implement laws and regulations protecting the environment and natural resources, health and safety, poverty reduction and social well-being.
Finally, EUREC calls on European governments to end all IMF, World Bank and regional development banks pressure on developing countries to privatise public services, especially in the area of education, health and water.