Briefing No. 95 September 2004
P&I Briefing 29 we explain how
GATS works and outlined UNISON's concerns over the current GATS negotiations and
the potential impact on public services in Scotland. This briefing provides an
GATS is the General Agreement on Trade in Services,
the service element of the Geneva based World Trade Organisation (WTO).
It sets out a
framework of legally binding rules for the
liberalisation of trade in services. Whilst there is an exemption for services
supplied under 'Government Authority', the partial privatisation of public services
opens the door to multinational companies who wish to take over essential services
in the UK and developing countries.
UK Government Action
UK bargains (known as offers and requests) through the European Commission, which
is the negotiating body for the whole of the European Union. Extensive commitments
had already been made under the GATS before the government and EU published its
consultation documents in October 2002.
UNISON, with a number
of other trade unions and NGOs, responded to the UK government consultation, (see
UNISON website). Whilst this is a reserved matter the Scottish Executive and Parliament
has a direct interest as it is responsible for many of the services that could
be covered by GATS. The Government published its reply to the public consultation
in December 2003 including the concerns of 776 respondents includingUNISON.
The European Union published its offers to improve access to its services
markets on 29 April 2003. The education sector, health related and social services
sector and audio-visual services are not included in the EU's offers to other
countries. But they could be included in future rounds.
DTI remains of the view that the GATS will benefit the UK and is keen to point
out that education and health services are exempt from the EU's offers to other
WTO member countries. However, they don't say that negotiations on the offers
and requests will be conducted on a country to country basis and that the UK could
still be under pressure to open up these key services to foreign competition.
EU's requests to 109 WTO member countries includes 94 countries classified as
developing countries or economies in transition.
new classification of environmental services 'water for human use and waste water
management' becomes a new sub-sector. Of the 109 countries targetted by the EU,
72 have been asked to open up this sub-sector. For a fuller anaysis of the EU's
requests, see the World Development Movement website: www.wdm.org.uk
problem with these negotiations is that they are held in secret. We need to know
exactly which services will be affected, and how. We need full consultation and
democratic debate before negotiations are completed.
On 12 March 2003 the EP adopted a motion
which, while expressing support for the GATS, includes concerns related to transparency
and restrictions on the right to regulate. It also calls for water services to
be excluded and for labour conditions on visas for foreign workers and investment
to be subject to conformance with the ILO tripartite agreement.
European Commission has also been busy promoting the privatisation of public services
outwith GATS. Proposals to
liberalise water services have
been rejected twice by the European Parliament in January and March this year.
Services Directive excludes drinking water but not waste water and generally promotes
competition over social or environmental concerns. UNISON is concerned that in
the absence of a European legal framework on Services of General Interest, our
public services will become market commodities to be bought and sold purely for
Nairobi Declaration on GATS
May, civil society groups from north and south, including WDM, gathered in Nairobi
to discuss the impact on the south of GATS and the forthcoming WTO negotiations
in Cancun. Their declaration on GATS included this statement:
not just about imports and exports of goods, but increasingly is encroaching on
people's democratic control over and access to resources and on governments' abilities
to regulate social and economic policies and formulate human development.
GATS represents a powerful and totally unacceptable instrument that limits policy
space and restricts popular access to services which are essential to people's
livelihoods and economic development."
The declaration committed
organisations to work together to resist the neo-liberal agenda being promoted
by a number of developed countries and corporate interests. They also highlighted
and number of practical examples where the liberalisation promoted by institutions
such as the World Bank and IMF had damaged essential public services in the developing
Action in Scotland
together with other interested groups has undertaken a range of actions to highlight
the threat of GATS both to public services in Scotland and the developing world.
Actions include member awareness through briefings, journal articles and a postcard
campaign. Meetings with UK and Scottish ministers, MPs and MSPs (including a parliamentary
petition), and civil servants from the DTI. We have highlighted similar concerns
over EU internal market reforms that mirror the GATS approach. UNISON has also
been active in raising wider concerns over the activities of the World Bank and
IMF in promoting the 'Washington Consensus' ideology of the smaller state and
a bigger role for market disciplines.
Action for Branches
raising the issue with your MP and MSPs. Press for a full parliamentary debate
before the government signs up to any EU and GATS privatisation.
the WDM events in Edinburgh next month.
World Development Movement
Public Services Union
The Scottish Coalition of the Trade Justice Movement is
organising a lobby of the Scottish Parliament at 12 noon on Wednesday 27 October
2004. Help send the message that Scotland supports Trade Justice.
World Big Challenge. WDM Scotland's public conference on Saturday 30 October
at Central Hall, Edinburgh. www.wdm.org.uk
The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Tel 0845 355 0845
Executive | Scottish Parliament | Briefings Home