INDEPENDENT NEWS

North Shore City rejects GATS

Published: Thu 12 Dec 2002 12:08 AM
North Shore City rejects GATS
North Shore City Council is far from impressed with the way the current negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) being conducted by the New Zealand Government with others in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) could affect local government in this country.
At its meeting this week, the council ' s strategy and finance committee was updated on GATS, the response to which was a mixture of surprise, anger and fear.
Committee chairperson Tony Holman says GATS rules are binding on all levels of government and so limit local authorities such as North Shore City to exercise its mandate to pursue social and environmental goals.
" We ' re far from impressed with the lack of consultation on this critical issue, " says Councillor Holman. " We support Christchurch City ' s call for full transparency and consultation on GATS with local government. " This reflects concerns being expressed in Australia, Canada and many other countries.
GATS was signed in 1994 under the WTO which administers the agreement designed to encourage freedom of international trade and removal of regulations deemed obstructive or anti-competitive. GATS applies to 160 service sectors, many of which are the responsibility, directly or indirectly, of local government. They include water services, transport, planning and building controls, community services including libraries and waste disposal.
" GATS is anti-social, anti-environmental and anti-triple bottom line not to mention anti-local enterprise, ownership and sovereignty, " Tony Holman says.
" We don ' t need to look too far to see the folly of many free market experiments in our community, such as the power sector and building control deregulation. We don ' t need the gnomes of Zurich, Geneva, New York or the EU breaking up essential community and social services for their own profit. "
One of the most worrying matters for North Shore City is the ability of foreign nations who are members of WTO complaining to our government on how New Zealand ' s 87 local authorities choose to deliver their services.
" It ' s bad enough that our local decisions are open to international scrutiny and challenge but what ' s even worse is that our local councils would not have the right to defend themselves against such a challenge and that compensation may be payable to nations deemed to have a right to enter our local markets.
" This is clearly a nonsense but deadly serious. We cannot find out what exactly is going on behind the scenes in Geneva and we ' ve been told that we would be stopped from accessing the information under our own Official Information Act, " says Tony Holman.
North Shore City is writing to Local Government New Zealand, the body representing the interests of this country ' s local authorities, and to the Government effectively endorsing the views expressed by Christchurch City Council (see below).
(ends)
For more information please contact North Shore City strategy and finance committee chairperson, Tony Holman, on 418 1057.
................................................................................................................................................................. That the Council write to the Minister of Trade Negotiations stating that the Council:
Believes that it is inappropriate that local authorities be constrained by an agreement to which local government is not a party;
Believes public policy regarding the regulation, funding and provision of essential services should be made democratically by governments at the national and local level;
Believes that no restrictions should be placed on local government ' s rights regarding achieving social and environmental ends in procurement;
Requests that the Government support the clear exclusion of public services at central and local levels from the GATS, including local government community services, environment and water services;
5. Requests that the Government oppose any proposals which would reduce the right of local government to regulate services, including the application of a " least trade restrictive " test to regulation;
6. Requests that the Government seek to eliminate the ability of WTO trade rules to overturn nation-state laws and practices that protect health, the environment, development and human rights;
Requests that the Government seek: (a) an amendment to the schedule, for example, entering a reservation in the horizontal commitments to exclude local government, or (b) a carve out for local government by amending the GATS, or (c) an interpretation or clarifying declaration by WTO members that local governments are exempt from GATS;
Requests that the Government commission an independent retrospective review on the WTO ' s impact on development, democracy, environmental sustainability, health, and human rights.
9. Requests that Local Government NZ advocate to central government on behalf of local government regarding the above concerns.

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