(and bin it)

Tuesday 20 March saw a demonstration in Manchester by World Development Movement and People and Planet groups outside the DTI office in Piccadilly. The action aimed to bring attention to the latest round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks where the General Agreement on Trades in Services (GATS) is under discussion. These talks are aimed at reducing what multinationals call "barriers to trade" and would allow them unlimited access to foreign (read "developing") countries' services sectors.

Governments entering into this round of negotiations are under great pressure to liberalise their service sectors to allow foreign "investment" and ownership of such fundamentals as provision of water, electricity and health care. Whilst these are potentially very lucrative to multinationals aiming to expand their control over the world's vital resources, what will it mean for the people of the countries where they would operate? Apart from issues of (in)appropriate technology being introduced into these countries, the main concerns are that control of these essential services would be wrestled from the governments of those nations. GATS would effectively leave them with no ability to impose environmental or social regulations on multinationals operating in their countries, no power to ensure that foreign-owned companies employ and train local people in ownership or management positions (thus limiting the benefits to the economy), no control over the costs to the population of these services once they were in private hands and no way of ensuring that such companies actually provided these services to the more remote and less profitable rural areas.

Under the guise of promoting efficient provision of these vital services, multinational corporations and Western governments with large service sector companies stand to gain massively if developing countries sign up to GATS. The stark reality is, that once committed, there would be the threat of trade sanctions for governments seeking to throw out poorly performing companies.

There has been too little public debate and awareness of these issues, and very little comment from the DTI.

Manchester WDM on (0161 225 7321)

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© Networking Newsletter (April 2001)