World Development Movement PRESS RELEASE, Thursday 6 February 2003

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GATS campaigners score victory on EU health, education and broadcasting

Fury as postal, retail, environmental and transport services to be further opened to foreign competition

European GATS campaigners scored a partial victory yesterday when European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy announced that the European Commission would not further commit Europe's health and education sectors to the free market rules of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and that no commitments at all would be made in audio-visual (broadcasting) services. However, campaigners are furious that under the cover of the announcement the EC released its intension to further open EU postal, environmental, telecommunications, distribution (retail), transport and financial services to foreign competition.

The announcement, described by campaigners as a "tactical retreat", was made just days before a European demonstration against GATS in Brussels this Sunday. EC officials admitted the move was a result of the campaign on GATS waged across Europe.

Director of the London based international development campaign, The World Development Movement (WDM), Barry Coates today said: "This climb down by the EC is a massive vindication of our campaigning on GATS over the last three years. WDM and a growing coalition of social campaigns, trade unions and local authorities have warned of the dangers of GATS for delivery of affordable, accountable public services around the world. Three years ago the UK Government were claiming that GATS didn't even cover health and education. This is an admission that our concerns about the public policy implications were entirely justified."

"But the victory must be put in context. European countries, including the UK have already made extensive commitments to GATS free market rules in the health and education sectors and these are effectively irreversible. Also this announcement is at the most a temporary stay of execution for these sectors as the GATS treaty forces countries to engage in successive rounds of negotiations offering more sectors each time."

"Pascal Lamy's announcement has been targeted to try and defuse the strong public campaign in Europe to halt GATS. This is a tactical retreat to draw fire away from the EC's main objective, which is to aggressively seek to open up overseas markets for EU service corporations. This is a victory for our members but our campaign continues and at this crucial point in negotiations it is more important than ever."

"Pascal Lamy said nothing about the extensive demands we know the EC is preparing to make of developing countries. This is our greatest concern. It is hypocritical that details of these have been kept secret."

The EC revealed that it has received only one demand for opening up of its services from a least developed country (Mali). Barry Coates said that: "This exposes the myth that these negotiations are part of what the UK Government insists on calling a 'Development Round' of trade negotiations. Developing countries realise they have little to gain. It is unacceptable that the EC is aggressively targeting basic services in poorer countries while recognising the dangers at home. The EC must withdraw its demands for liberalisation of basic services in developing countries."

On December 23rd eight UK General Secretaries, including those of Unison, TGWU, CWU and NATFHE wrote a public letter to the Guardian expressing their concern about the impact of GATS on health, education, transport, broadcasting and postal services. They called for a halt to GATS negotiations, describing them as "reckless and undemocratic", and arguing "the EC's aggressive requests of the developing countries would adversely impact on workers and vital services for the poor in developing countries."

Notes for editors

  1. EC press release (IP/03/186).
  2. Demo details: Brussels, Gare du Nord, 2pm, Sunday 9 February 2003. Other organisations taking part in the demonstration include: European Federation of Public Service Unions, Attac France and Belgium, OXFAM-Solidarity-BELGIUM. The protest marks the end of the EC's consultation on which European service sectors will be offered for liberalisation under GATS when negotiations to expand the agreement start in earnest at the WTO in April. The first draft of the EC's offers will be sent to EU member states today (6 February 2003) for approval.
  3. The EU signed up to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in 1994. Accelerated negotiations to extend the agreement are taking place at the World Trade Organisation. The agreement applies to all levels of government - local, regional and national, covering 160 service sectors. It extends the free trade principles of the WTO from trade in goods to services. The WTO Secretariat has described GATS commitments as "effectively irreversible". GATS rules govern the extent and nature of the involvement of foreign companies in the delivery of services and places strict limits on the ability of governments to regulate the market in service sectors. The EC's website describes GATS as "first and foremost an instrument for the benefit of business."

Contact: Dave Timms, Press Officer, +44 (0)20 7274 7630 or +44 (0)7711 875 345

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