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PRESS RELEASE, 28 August 2003

Stop the GATS Attack!

"Moratorium on all commitments under General Agreement on Trade in Services(GATS)" is the demand of more than 650 signatories including Panchayat Presidents and representatives, trade unions, farmers groups, mass organizations, NGOs and a large number of individuals in the country. They have voiced this demand by endorsing a letter prepared by EQUATIONS (Bangalore), MANTHAN (Badwani) and Focus on the Global South (Mumbai). This letter, which will be presented to the Prime Minister and Commerce ministry officials signals the beginning of a peoples campaign against the GATS.

Among the trade unions and mass organizations that have made this demand are the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), National Alliance of Peoples Movements, Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, Shahar Vikas Manch of Mumbai, Kokan Vikas Sangharsh Samiti, KRRS (Karnataka), the Nimad Malwa Mazdoor Kisaan Sangathan (Madhya Pradesh) and others. Significantly, more than 200 Panchayat representatives from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have already written to the Prime Minister.

As a part of the "built-in-agenda" of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the GATS was reopened for negotiations by the beginning of 2000. From the arduous negotiations on modalities emerged a non-multilateral mechanism known as a "request-offer" approach for proceeding ahead with negotiations under the GATS. Member countries of the WTO were asked to make "requests" to other Member countries, which include: (a) the sectors that they want the other Member(s) to open up to liberalisation; (b) the mode of service supply to be opened up under that Sector; and (c) the quantum of liberalization that needs to be carried out under each mode of supply within that sector. The Members are responding to these requests by making "initial offers." This has overwhelmed most developing countries, at a time when they have been pushing the WTO to implement an assessment of impacts of services trade liberalization.

Why Moratorium on GATS offers?

GATS covers more or less all the essential public and private services supplied and consumed by society. In spite of this fact, the Government of India is not carrying out a public debate in any forum, including the Parliament, to discuss how its commitments under GATS would impact the developmental fabric of Indian society. Irrespective of the fact that a number of services get covered under the State and the Concurrent List of the Indian Constitution, several State level officials are completely unaware of the GATS itself. If this is the apathy shown by the Centre towards States, nothing better can be expected in the context of Panchayats and Municipal Corporations. Panchayat Presidents and representatives were shocked when they were confronted with the experiences of liberalization in essential services such as health, education, sanitation and water in other developing countries.

The lack of transparency associated with the existing liberalization agenda, the undermining of federalism and the lack of competence within the Commerce ministry are some of the several issues highlighted in the letter, and underline the need for a standstill in the negotiations.

The upcoming Fifth WTO Ministerial meeting in Cancun is expected to provide the mandate for further negotiations and a deadline for final commitments. The demand from Indian civil society is that instead of accepting this process as a fait accompli the Government of India should lead the developing countries in calling for the much-needed assessment of GATS and removal of all essential services from the ambit of the GATS.

The signatories to the letter believe that the right to essential services is inalienable to all citizens of India. Further, equity, justice and dignity in the delivery of essential services is integral for long-term societal stability and equality. Signatories to the letter call upon the Indian Government to respect the Indian Constitution and fundamental principles of democracy, and act upon the concerns expressed in the letter.

For further details kindly contact: Benny Kuruvilla (EQUATIONS) or Shalmali Guttal (Focus on the Global South)