The General Agreement On Trade and Services

Lara Marsh, World Development Movement, on 28 March 2002

A draft agreement has been prepared by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and is supported by many multi-national corporations. The UK, through the EU, is a signatory. The first regulation may come into force for some areas by the end of 2002.

The World Development Movement are opposed to the whole concept in its present form and consider it should be significantly re-drafted.

International agreements and controls over trade in goods have been active for many years. Broadly, this has led to expanded trade and prosperity, but also to many disputes, for example, over bananas. Now the principle is being extended to services. The fear is that public services like health care, education, water, energy, and postal services may be opened up to private, often international, business and the poor may be deprived of them.

Under the draft regulations, countries signing up may ask for a dispensation from certain rules initially, but this will only be granted for five or ten years. A particular worry is that the rules are irreversible.

Members at the meeting discussed the composition, role and governance of the WTO. There is a disputes panel but members doubted the impartiality of its judgements.

Major conferences of the WTO and other bodies have recently been subjected to demonstrations and disturbances on a large scale. A major complaint of the protesters is that the WTO and similar bodies are dominated by large countries and major international corporations; small and less developed countries are often the ones most likely to be disadvantaged by the decisions taken at these conferences and often cannot afford to send delegates to them.

Lara Marsh put forward a persuasive case against the present draft agreement. She urged the meeting to give the matter wide publicity. The World Development Movement has a branch in Bath. The international Aid agencies and the Quakers support them, but do not campaign for change like the WDM.

Rodney Tye