ALLIANCE SCORES TWO VICTORIES ON GATS--Ruth Caplan
The Alliance recently scored two significant victories in its campaign opposing the WTO's
General Agreement on Trade in Services -- GATS. The U.S. "offers" have been made public and
they rejected the European Commission's request that water "collection, treatment, distribution"
for human use be opened up to foreign competition under highly favorable GATS rules.
For the past year, the Alliance has demanded that the office of the US Trade Representative
(USTR) make public its "requests" and "offers" to other member countries in the bilateral
negotiations to expand GATS. In meeting after meeting, the USTR refused. This changed on
Monday, March 31. On that date, the deadline for WTO members countries to make their initial
offers, the USTR published its offers on their website http://www.ustr.gov
According to Peter Collins, the USTR negotiator on GATS, the decision was made by USTR chief
Robert Zoellick to dispel misinformation about what the U.S. was offering. Not a word was said
about turning down the political heat.
Indeed the political heat was fueled by the leak of the final requests from the European
Commission several months earlier. The Alliance was one of a select number of NGOs around the
world which received the leaked documents now publicly available at
http://www.polarisinstitute.org The Alliance issued a press release saying in part:
"Despite frequent denials by European trade officials, they are targeting public services in the
current round of services negotiations. The Alliance for Democracy has received leaked official
European Commission (EC) documents confirming that the U.S. Postal Service and municipal
water/sewer systems are on the negotiating table. The EC even wants their businesses to be
eligible for federal small business administration loans now restricted to U.S. citizens....
"'From the mail we receive to the water we drink, the European requests show that our basic
public services are under threat,' observed Ruth Caplan, coordinator of the Alliance for
Democracy's trade campaign. 'European corporations want global trade rules so they can profit
each time we drink a glass of water or send a letter to Grandma.'....
"'Our municipal water/sewer systems are under a GATS attack and local officials have not even
been told. Secret negotiations about the public's right to water is not how democracy should
work,' Caplan stated.
"'It is time for United States to make its requests and offers public,' Caplan declared. 'The
public needs to know whether the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) headed by
Robert Zoellick will protect essential public services or trade them away in response to the
European requests. The Alliance calls on USTR to make public all its requests to other countries
immediately and to make its offers public as soon as they are made.' To date only unsatisfactory
general summaries of the requests have been released.
"The EC is specifically requesting that its corporations be given market access for "Water
collection, purification and distribution services through mains" within United States'
boundaries. This classification under "Water for Human Use & Wastewater Management" has
been created by the EC."
This request on water for human use by the European Commission was summarily rejected by
the USTR. After three years of organizing to keep water out of GATS, the Alliance has clearly
scored a very important victory. Every Alliance member who wrote or called the USTR, who
contacted their member of Congress, and who raised the issue in their local community shares
in this victory.
Our work is not over. Water privatization could be promoted at the next WTO ministerial
meeting in Cancun, Mexico, through the proposed new agreements on investment and competition
-- a return of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) which was the Alliance's first
national campaign and first major victory when the MAI was defeated. We must also keep up
pressure to defeat the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) which has chapters on both
investment and services that would give more power to corporations.
But first, sit back and celebrate our victories in a long and hard struggle.