EU plays down \"leaked\" trade plans, greens angry
BRUSSELS - The European Commission dismissed reports yesterday its efforts to bring about trade liberalisation would hit state-run services in poor nations.
But green groups raged at what they called threats to people and the environment contained in documents which they said the Commission, the EU\'s executive arm, wanted to keep secret.
The controversy centres on efforts to liberalise the worldwide market for services, in which cross-border trade is estimated at more than one trillion dollars a year.
British newspaper The Guardian quoted what it called secret documents as saying the EU was being tough in talks on freeing up markets for services.
Green groups also released, on the internet, what they called confidential EU negotiating papers and said the implications were that key state-run services would be opened up for competition and exploitation in developing countries by huge multi-nationals to the detriment of the countries concerned.
\"The allegations contained in the article are incorrect,\" said Anthony Gooch, Commission trade spokesman, speaking of The Guardian\'s report.
The report said the EU\'s tough stance on opening up others\' markets included sensitive areas like water, sewerage and telecoms, often run by the state in many nations.
Such areas and others in the service sector are being talked about by the EU and trading partners under a pact called the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The talks take place under the auspices of the the World Trade Organisation.
Gooch said the Commission\'s position on GATS was published last year and denied it involved undermining developing nations.
\"They (the EU\'s requests) do not involve requesting or demanding that public services in developing countries be done away with,\" he added.
But environmental groups disagreed.
\"No thanks to the Commission, we have received the first detailed \'requests\' from the EU to the so-called Group I countries (the richer, larger ones) in the GATS \'request-offer\' process,\" French anti-globalisation group Attac said.
Attac, which blossomed from a small French group created after the 1999 free trade summit in Seattle that was halted by protesters and sprouted satellite groups in dozens of countries, called its information \"dynamite\".
\"These requests make it clear that GATS will destroy many public services and small businesses,\" it said on its website.
\"Circulate the information widely, especially to contacts in the countries of whose governments requests are being made. Use the dynamite to blow GATS out of the water.\"
Environmental action group Friends of the Earth also hit out at the documents, saying liberalisation of key public services would lead to laxer environment protection laws.
\"In essence, the GATS continues the push by transnational corporations to commodify even those services, such as water, electricity and health care, that should be accessible to all without regard to income or ability to pay,\" it said.
\"The broad range of liberalisation could pose serious threats to people and the environment,\" Alexandra Wandel of the European section of Friends of the Earth added in a statement.
Trade liberalisation has sparked fierce responses from anti-globalisation groups. Their demonstrations halted trade talks in the United States in 1999 in a confrontation dubbed \"The Battle of Seattle\".
Story by Patrick Lannin
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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