Civil Society Slams Services Negotiations at the WTO; Developing Countries Pressured To Open Services to Foreign Corporations

Original Publication Date: 
22 June, 2005

Geneva - Over 160 civil society organizations from around the world sent a letter to WTO ambassadors today calling on negotiators to stop pressuring developing countries to open up their services sector to the corporations based in industrialized countries.

The WTO negotiations concern the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), in which countries are given the flexibility to put specific services on the negotiating table to be opened up to foreign competition. Forty developing countries and 32 less-developed countries are feeling pressure to open up finance, energy, water, tourism, distribution and transportation service sectors.

'On the one hand, these are among the service sectors where the EU and US are the home base of for-profit corporations seeking to expand their global market reach,' the letter reads. 'On the other hand, these sectors represent crucial and necessary bases for the fulfilment of human rights and they provide the fundamental support services required for agricultural and industrial production.'

The U.S. and EU are advocating for the establishment of 'benchmarks'which would restrict the flexibility of countries to decide which service sectors to put on the negotiating table. Pressure on developing countries to support these benchmarks is coming from the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries and the European Services Forum, which represent the major corporations in the service sectors.

A recent study by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) questioned the promised benefits of privatization and liberalization of the service sector and shows how developing countries lose flexibility in public policy making under the GATS.

The Civil Society letter called for service negotiations to take a number of steps, including: greater involvement of national governments and for request and offers to be made fully public; rejection of requests for 'benchmarks' that restrict flexibility for developing countries; and rejection of negotiations that put trade interests above all others including health and the environment.

The letter said, 'The erosion of the so-called flexibility in the GATS negotiations - along side the failure of industrialized countries to propose and support significant development-oriented proposals in the simultaneous agricultural negotiations and in the so-called Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) negotiations - exposes the gulf between the rhetoric and reality of the so-called `Doha Development Round.''

The full letter, and all signatories, can be viewed at: