Women stop GATS

Maude Barlow


9 May 2003
"Guten Abend!"
My sisters and brothers in Germany, I am thrilled to be here. I thank you for your invitation, for your hospitality, for the wonderful feeling of solidarity. And I have to tell you: when I come from all such a long way away, and I feel the energy of all these women, I absolutely know that we are going to win this. Not just the GATS, but the whole fight.
I want to talk a little about what the GATS is. You are going to get into lots of details in the next few days, but I think it is important for us to start off with a brief overview.
Basically for years and years, since the old GATT - the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - was established after the Second World War, there was a series of what they called "trade rounds." These were essentially about taking down barriers to the trade in goods. And if civil society had concerns, these were mainly about the way that goods were produced and the abuse of people in this trade liberalization process.
But since the mid-1980s they started to talk about something new. They started to talk about what they called 'non-tariff barriers' and services. Now 'non-tariff barriers' is a nice trade term that sounds ethically neutral. But in fact, 'non-trade barriers' are all the regulations and protections and rights that citizens are allowed, and should have the right to demand for their governments.
In fact, when most of our governments signed the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, they agreed not only that we had fundamental rights to education, to health, to decent working conditions and to pensions, to clean air, clean water and safe food. They also signed covenants which said that they had the responsibility to ensure that these services were delivered to their people.
Now what the GATS does, and what these trade agreements do, is constrain governments in what they are allowed to do. They exist mostly for the purpose of telling governments that they now have to represent their citizens very differently. They have to shrink dramatically, while at the same time giving protection to transnational corporations, particularly. Because these corporations want to move across borders and not bump into different kinds of environmental or health and safety rules. This is what they call a "level playing field."
But they don't want a playing field up here. (Holds hand high.) They want the lowest level possible for a playing field, so they can move around the world and not think in terms of any domestic standards. They don't want domestic standards. And now, most particularly, they want governments to get out of the delivery of social programs, of water, of prisons, of roads, of culture. They want this to be transferred over to a whole new sector.
So all the rules have changed. Now governments can turn around and say, "It had nothing to do with us, we don't have to change our laws, we still have equality laws for women on the books, we still have pay equity laws. But unfortunately the GATS has made us do it. The GATS has set the new limits and the new terms." And governments are now being told by the World Trade Organization, "You will change your fundamental relationship to your citizens, or we will change it for you."
The GATS was set up in 1995, when the World Trade Organization was created. GATS was also created at that time, and the process was to begin the liberalization of services, continuing until all services are fully liberalized. It is very important that we understand that. It is also important to understand that the World Trade Organization has enforcement mechanisms that no other institutions have, except the World Bank and the IMF, which have financial constraints, and financial punishments.
When our governments sign environmental agreements, or labor agreements or social agreements or human rights agreements, there is nothing to make them fulfill those agreements, except perhaps an awakened citizenry. And even then — as you know — democracy does not work the way it's supposed to, in any of our countries.
But the WTO has a mechanism to enforce its powers on other countries. If you look at the trade agreements, they look as if they are equal for large countries and small countries. But in fact, when a big power like the United States or the European Union retaliates against small states, it can destroy the economy of those states.
When a small state decides to try to stand up for its rights against one of the big powers, it's impossible to do. The big powers don't even feel it and very often don't even listen in the beginning. So it's very important for us to understand that the essence of the WTO is to constrain government rights to protect their citizens, and to look after their environment and their natural resources. The GATS hones in on the whole issue of services.
Now even if governments are not listening, and what we have heard from our government in Canada, and what you are going to hear from the EU is, "Ah yes, but the GATS is what they call a 'bottom-up agreement', which means unless we list something as open for foreign investment, we have basically exempted it, and what are you people all upset about?" The European Union is saying, "We're going to exempt health care, education, and social services." Now they are saying they are going to exempt water.
I want to tell you that there are a lot of us around the world — and I'm not saying Canada's any better — who are really angry that the European Union is out promoting water privatization all over the world, on behalf of Suez and Vivendi and Thames RWE, and enforcing a privatized agenda for water on the whole world while it's saying, "Ah, but we will maintain the right to say no if we don't want to have that happen here."
I even met some fairly senior bureaucrats and politicians in Belgium recently who said: "Oh it's different, we are civilized here in Europe, and therefore we should have the right to maintain our public water system. But they are not civilized in the Third World. And therefore when we bring them a private system, we do them a favor."
Even if they tell you they are not listing basic services, first of all they are hypocritical. All our governments are hypocritical on this, my government as well. But secondly, and this is important to know, they are looking to deepen the constrictions on what they call 'domestic regulations', or 'domestic rules and standards.' And so basically, whether our governments formally list a service or not, they are going to apply these 'rules of domestic regulation' to all government services, including the ones that are so-called 'exempted.'
And that means that governments are going to have to be prepared to prove to the WTO that when they deliver health care or water in a public not-for-profit way, that it is compatible with - and competitive with - private sector companies. And that they can in fact prove they have the right to continue to do this. And that these public sector rules are no more 'burdensome' than necessary.
One of the most important messages I bring to you here, is that there are also new issues in the WTO that are going to work with these services issues of the GATS in a very dangerous way. And the biggest one I want to tell you briefly about is investment.
You remember the old MAI? The Multilateral Agreement on Investment? Well we have the MAI in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Association). It is called Chapter 11, and it gives corporations the right to sue governments of another country if those governments bring in any law, or change any regulation, that affects the profit-making ability of those corporations. And they have used their power strongly against environmental legislation, against health and safety standards, against the introduction of pesticide rules and so on in Canada and in Mexico as well. And this is what they want to import here.
With the extension of NAFTA to the Free-Trade Area of the Americas, services will also be introduced. So we are going to have a services agreement in the hemisphere of the Americas, over-laid with this right of corporations to sue. Which means that the big American hospital corporations that have outgrown the United States and want to expand around the world, the big HMOs (health maintenance organizations) and the big drug transnationals, the big prison corporations and the big for-profit educational corporations, are all going to have the right to go into any country of the Americas. And if any country or state, province or municipality says "No. We don't want you," they will have the right to sue for billions of dollars in compensation.
Now what Pascal Lamy and the European Union trade people will say to you is, "Oh, we're not going to do that." I debated Pascal Lamy in Canada a few weeks ago. He said, "We're not going to do that. We're not looking at the NAFTA model." But I tell you, that's not how trade works. They always get their best, which is our worst, and that always becomes the benchmark. And if we allow NAFTA Chapter 11 to be extended to all of the countries of the Americas, I promise you, that will be the next goal of the WTO, even if it does not happen this time.
So you will not only have a powerful agreement on trade and services that forces us to liberalize and privatize all of our municipal, social, cultural services, natural resource services, but also the right of transnational corporations to sue any country in the WTO for non-compliance. That is where they are going. The International Chamber of Commerce just put out a statement, basically saying this is the model they are seeking at the WTO, and that they want an enforcement mechanism as in the NAFTA.
Now if this happens, it means that these health and service corporations would have the right to come into any country in the world and set up a commercial presence. But, importantly, they would have the right to demand funding equal to that which governments are giving to domestic not-for-profit service sectors. Because at the core of trade is something called 'national treatment.' It means that you cannot discriminate in favor of your own domestic sector against a foreign industry sector that has gained these rights.
So no government on earth would be able to afford to continue to supply public health and public education and public water if they have to give equal money to every transnational corporation in the world that chooses to come in and say "You can't discriminate, you have to give me the same amount of money you gave that public hospital." So it is in fact the end of public services around the world.
Now why do they want this? Well, for the corporations, they have outgrown their country of origin. We are talking about a world in which of the 100 largest economies, 53 are transnational corporations. Most countries are smaller than these big corporations. Wal-Mart is bigger than 163 countries. They have outgrown their domestic sector, and they want to get into the lucrative market of government-delivered social programs, programs delivered to us as our fundamental rights.
The World Bank says health care is now about a $5 trillion industry. And these companies want access to it. Education is not far behind. We couldn't begin to put a price on water. Less than 10% of the world's water services are now privatized, and that's a multi-billion dollar industry. Can you imagine the money to be made when a small handful of companies has cartelized, privatized, modified the world's fresh water resources, and decides who gets them and who doesn't? That's why I call it "blue gold." Can you imagine the power of that global high command of water, that is now going to make decisions about water for the entire world?
For governments, the GATS is a way to discipline their people to enforce the 'Washington Consensus' of market economy, privatization, deregulation, trade liberalization. Without ever having to go to the polls and ask you to vote for this kind of thing. Without taking away any of the rights that we have gained as women, or as minorities, or the human rights we have all fought for. This is the way they do it.
So for this new global royalty, what GATS does, backed by World Trade Organization enforcement, backed by this corporate power, is basically that it says, "we now have what we need." It is the economic arm of the military arm that we now have to discipline the entire world, and to impose the Washington consensus model. And we will decide who dies and who lives and who lives in what way.
This is a form of global class warfare. The GATS is one of the most powerful tools they have, along with the World Bank, the IMF, and a number of other instruments they have built internationally. It's one of the most powerful tools to enforce a system of global class warfare. And it's not going to hurt women exclusively, but it will hurt women first and most. Because women are the ones who use universal health care most. We are most dependent, still being quite a lot poorer than men in most countries, very much poorer than men in some countries.
It is women who are responsible for the health and well being of their families. In South Africa alone, just that one country, the women walk an equivalent of to the moon and back sixteen times a day to get water for their families. You privatize that water. You tell those women they have to pay for it. They won't be able to do it. It will be the women who are on the front line of this global class struggle. And they are going to be — we are going to be — the first to be caught by this.
Now I will end by saying, I bring you a tough message. Yes. But I am absolutely hopeful. I do not believe that this is going to be allowed to happen, although I know much of it has already happened. But we are building a very powerful, international, civil society movement with women at the forefront and women throughout the movement, to say 'no' to this agenda.
After the "Battle of Seattle" (November-December 1999 anti-WTO protests) the Pentagon hired the Rand Corporation to find out who these people were, who had taken to the streets. It took them all by surprise. And the Rand Corporation came back and said, "Well, we studied them really hard, and the best we can tell you is that they are like a swarm of mosquitoes, and we can't find their headquarters. And it is really upsetting, because if we could just find their headquarters, and who is at the top (we could)..." You know they didn't say "bomb them," but they did say "deal with them."
That is our strength: we are mosquitoes, we are clouds, we are weeds. We are everywhere. And we are absolutely not going to be told that this is the only future for us. To say that there is no alternative, which Margaret Thatcher used to say, is a form of cultural and economic imperialism. We absolutely will not let this happen.
And so we found each other. We found each other around the world. I get off the plane here, and I meet women and I say: "You are my family." I'm actually quite a lot closer to you than I am to my next door neighbor who is a very senior official with our trade department. We fight over the back fence all the time.
So what is community? That man is not my community. You are my community, we are each other's community. Just as they have created a new global royalty and they have this tool of the GATS, so have we found each other. And we are far too numerous, and we are far too smart, and we are far too powerful for them to win. And yes, it's going to take the rest of our lives to undo the terrible damage that has been done in the name of neo-liberalism. And yes, we have a huge job ahead of us, and yes, we are all tired, and yes, we work too hard, but you know what? What else have we got to do?
(Thank you. Danke schön.)

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