Civil Society Calls for Mobilisation Against WTO Services Liberalization

Geneva, 14.02.2005 - Since the collapse of the WTO Cancun Ministerial, Geneva has become more important for WTO decision-making. In response to this development, Swiss and international civil societies have joined hands to monitor trade negotiations and to work together towards a more equitable and sustainable world trading system.

Of key importance is the current round of GATS negotiations taking place at the WTO. ‘The GATS negotiations are virtually secret (even from national parliaments) – it is an insult to democracy,’ said Mike Waghorne of Public Services International. ‘Under GATS, governments can regulate their services industry but a challenge from another member state could find such regulations to be more burdensome to trade than is necessary, forcing the country to change its regulation or face retribution. This impacts on municipal governments who are not party to the negotiations,’ he said.

In relation to developing countries, Mr. Waghorne said that the negotiations ‘could be disastrous if developing countries want to develop their own public services later. The Washington consensus forces them to privatise; the same forces use WTO pressure to get irreversible GATS commitments in these services.’ On the questions of the GATS Mode 4 which covers the temporary movement of workers to another country to provide services, he said, ‘while this can benefit developing countries (e.g., financial and skills development), it can also lead to the brain drain of key professionals. Foreign workers often have no rights in the host country and no rights to the money they pay into retirement and unemployment schemes before they return home. Host countries must provide full protection of these temporary migrant workers.’

Marianne Hochuli from the Bern Declaration, Switzerland, who recently completed a study on services liberalisation added that ‘developed countries are pushing developing countries to liberalize and deregulate their financial and tourism markets. These developed countries argue that foreign firms will enhance competition and will bring additional know-how and technology into these sectors,’ but Ms. Hochuli emphasized that the contrary could be the case. The presence of foreign banks, for example, doesn't necessary lead to better access to credit for small and medium enterprises, for women and the rural population.’

‘Even though there is overwhelming evidence of destructive consequences from the deregulation, privatization and liberalization of services, particularly public services, developed countries are exerting high pressure during this round of GATS negotiations on developing countries to table or improve offers by May 2005,’ said Jacques-chai Chomthongdi of Focus on the Global South, Thailand. ‘The claim that services negotiations are lagging behind agriculture, is unacceptable. We have not yet seen any progress on agriculture that would genuinely benefit farmers in developing countries. Moreover, the attempt to move away from a positive lists bottom up approach clearly shows that there is no space for development in this so called “development round,’ he said.

Séverin Guelpa, secrétaire syndical - Syndicat interprofessionnel de travailleuses et travailleurs, Membre comité - Forum Social Lémanique, Suisse
La Suisse subit actuellement de plein fouet des attaques contre l'ensemble de ses services publics. L'Etat social est remis en cause, le statut des salariés de la fonction publique menacés. Cette politique agressive dictée par des intérêts purement commerciaux et financiers recoupe, à son échelle, les intentions formulées au travers de l'AGCS. Les mouvements sociaux locaux s'attèlent donc fermement à dénoncer les effets de pareilles politiques, tant au niveau local qu'international. A cet effet, ils organisent le jeudi 17 février prochain devant l'OMC un grand rassemblement dès 17h30 afin de dénoncer l'AGCS et de revendiquer le maintien et le renforcement de services publics forts.