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GATS! Are We Stupid, or What?
December 5, 2002
By punpirate

Many in the U.S. want war with Iraq. Most of those people don't give a damn about the facts. Well, what about a few other facts on the state of the nation and the world? Most people in this country and around the world don't have a clue about a little trade agreement called by its acronym, GATS. Most have, at one time or another, seen the acronym GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), and as horrible as that agreement is for everyone except corporations and their stockholders, GATS is much worse.

GATS proposes to force governments around the world to privatize basic services any time a corporation wishes to horn in on those services formerly operated by national and provincial governments. Water, health care, education, electricity and other energy services--all are up for grabs with the latest GATS treaty, as administered by the World Trade Organization.

The pertinent clauses in this proposed agreement are a CEO's wet dream. Article author Maude Barlow writes: "Corporations plan to use the GATS agreement to profit from the privatization of educational systems, health care systems, child care, energy and municipal water services, postal services, libraries, museums, and public transportation. If the GATS agreement is finalized, it will lock in a privatized, for-profit model for the global economy. GATS/WTO would make it illegal for a government with privatized services to ever return to a publicly owned, non-profit model. Any government that disobeys these WTO rulings will face sanctions. What used to be areas of common heritage like seed banks, air and water supplies, health care and education will be commodified, privatized, and sold to the highest bidder on the open market. People who cannot afford these privatized services will be left out."

Comments on WTO/GATS rules from member states are expected by the WTO by March, 2003. In our national legislature, approval of this corollary treaty to WTO will likely fly right through the Senate, since Congress has already given President Bush "fast-track" treaty approval. This fast-track legislation limits debate in the Senate to only 20 hours, and gives the Senate only an up-or-down vote on the treaty legislation. Congress has effectively given away its ability to force changes in any trade legislation, even though the Senate is ultimately responsible for treaties.

The effect of this proposed treaty modification is to turn over most functions of governments to corporations. Any corporation can, effectively, seize the operations of governments around the world. and if the government resists, can extort payments to the corporation for lost profits through the WTO arbitration process, which is secret, non-governmental and free from public input or influence.

In theory, Tenet Health or Columbia/HCA could force the governments of Great Britain, France or Canada to turn over the administration of their nationalized health care systems to those corporations, unless those governments could prove that they can continue to administer their programs more cheaply and effectively than could the challenging corporation. Likewise, the United States might have to give up administrative control of Medicare or Medicaid, or both, to some domestic or foreign firm, or have its taxpayers pay heavily in the form of fines for the failure to do so. Same with the public schools. Edison Schools, a financially and intellectually near-bankrupt firm in the business of privatizing education, could take over your local school system, if they claim they can do better.

Privatization of essential public services has caused considerable difficulty world-wide; Bolivia, forced by the IMF to privatize its water system as a condition of IMF loans, sold its water system to Bechtel. Bechtel immediately increased rates to more than double those imposed by the Bolivian government, and prompted riots in the streets of Cochabamba. Argentina, desperate for world bank loans, gave in to Draconian measures demanded by the World Bank, changed its currency standards and privatized portions of its publicly-monitored civil services. Its water system was privatized, and portions of its water service, pipelines, were sold to the most prominent down-in-flames American corporation, Enron, and rates skyrocketed. Demands by the World Bank and the IMF for privatization of water supplies in some African countries have resulted in similar problems.

In virtually every case, privatization of government services, here and abroad, has resulted in drastically increased rates, diminished quality of service, civil strife and economic impoverishment of both individuals and nations.

Who's behind this nonsense? Well, no less than American big bidness. As Maude Barlow relates: "One American trade official summed up the GATS/WTO process by saying, "Basically it won't stop until foreigners finally start to think like Americans, act like Americans, and most of all shop like Americans."

Does this official care about American governmental institutions with mandates to protect the interests of citizens? Obviously not. In the minds of the free-trade, laissez-faire types, corporations rule, dudes. But, when they get into trouble, they run to the government for a bailout, at taxpayer expense. When are our citizens going to understand that this is theft, purely, simply, and does not deserve any support? What will it take for the bulk of citizens to tell their representatives that they would rather vote for Satan than watch their rights under government dissipated by approval of treaties intended by corporations to destroy the base of support for government?

Fast-track approval was a horrid mistake. GATS is another horrid mistake, pending. Take the time to warn your representative that if they can't or won't read legislation and understand its implications for the American people and the people of the world, you'll vote for people who can read and do understand.


punpirate is a writer in New Mexico who reads GATS like a bookie reads the racing sheets.

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