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Trade Minister's response to EU WTO Services Document Misleading: Call For NZ GATS Positions to be Made Public

22 April 2002

GATT Watchdog says that Jim Sutton's dismissal of a draft of European Union (EU) requests made of New Zealand and 28 other countries in the WTO services negotiations as a mere wishlist (Morning Report, Radio New Zealand, 22 April) is consistent with the cavalier approach with which his government is engaging in the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) negotiations.

Mr Sutton's response is misleading , says Aziz Choudry, of GATT Watchdog.

He wants to sidestep the furore which these documents have sparked in other countries. Yet New Zealand has already made one of the most wide-ranging sets of GATS commitments of any WTO member. Last June it tabled a document at the WTO Council for Trade in Services which stated:

"First and foremost, New Zealand will actively encourage Members to explore ways in which existing commitments in all services sectors, in terms of both market access and national treatment, can be progressively liberalised"

This implies that the government is prepared to voluntarily extend its own commitments to all services including all health, education and water services. For Mr Sutton to say that the EU document is merely a wishlist and that there is nothing to worry about is an absolute joke. New Zealand governments have gone much further than what is requested of them WTO talks. Whether it is due to blind adherence to discredited free market ideology, or pressure from EU and US corporations and their governments, the end result of more services liberalisation is more privatisations and more bad news for ordinary people.

GATT Watchdog is still waiting for a response from a 5 March Official Information Act request to Mr Sutton asking whether he plans to make public New Zealand's requests and offers in the request-offer phase of GATS negotiations currently underway.

GATS is an extension of the same free market policies which the Labour/Alliance government was elected to reject. Such services are not mere commodities to be bought and sold in a competitive market many are essential to full participation in society .

In its free trade and investment agreement with Singapore, this government has made commitments, as in health-related and environmental services, which go further than its existing GATS commitments. Which services is the government planning to open up under the current GATS negotiations? If it wishes to actively encourage other WTO members to progressively liberalise existing commitments in all services sectors , does it plan to offer all education, health and water services to the world market?

We challenge Mr Sutton to make public New Zealand's GATS requests and offers. New Zealand's response to the EU's and other countries - requests should also be made public said Mr Choudry.

GATT Watchdog has launched a postcard campaign on GATS calling on the government to withdraw its services offer in all trade agreements. It urged that it should not participate in any further international negotiations on trade in services until a thorough and independent assessment of the impacts of GATS on basic services in New Zealand and internationally has been conducted.

Aziz Choudry
GATT Watchdog media release © GATT Watchdog

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