GATS Victories!!!

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

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 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.