Weekly News Review

28th February 2003



EU Demands Corporate Access to U.S. Postal and Municipal Water Systems

and Elimination of State Insurance, Land-Use and Alcohol Distribution

Regulations - Leaked WTO/GATS Documents Show







The US national consumer group Public Citizen joined civil society groups around the globe this week in a co-ordinated release of secret negotiating documents that have been leaked from the World Trade Organization's (WTO) service-sector negotiations. The documents expose the threat that the closed-door "GATS 2000" talks pose to essential public services upon which people worldwide rely daily.



The documents reveal the sweeping scope of issues now on the negotiating table. The issues include the privatisation and deregulation of public energy and water utilities, postal services, higher education and alcohol distribution systems; the right for foreign firms to obtain US government small-business loans; and extreme deregulation of private-sector service industries such as insurance, banking, mutual funds and securities.



"The good news is that this leak means the end to the Bush administration's attempts to dodge Congress and the public by saying that there's nothing going on at these WTO negotiations," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "The bad news is that everything from your town's municipal drinking water to the local electricity utility to the U.S. postman are headed for sale on some Geneva 'trade' negotiating table, and the public and our elected officials at every level have been kept in the dark."



Many of the services listed in the leaked documents are regulated in the US at the local or state level, yet state and municipal officials are excluded from these closed-door negotiations. The leaked documents are European Union demands on other countries to privatise public services and deregulate service sectors as part of the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).



The documents, which many describe as the "smoking gun" evidence after months of speculation and concern about the secretive GATS talks, have prompted civil society groups worldwide to call for a moratorium on talks and a public process involving state and local officials. All WTO member nations, including the U.S., are expected to respond to the European demands within weeks, starting March 31, 2003. Europe's requests of the U.S. are available at www.tradewatch.org. Europe's complete requests to more than 100 WTO member nations can be seen on the website of the Polaris Institute of Canada, http://www.polarisinstitute.org



"These documents demonstrate that a sweeping array of basic consumer and environmental safeguards at all levels of government here in the United States are being placed on a chopping block in a closed, secretive venue," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook.



Added David Waskow, trade specialist for Friends of the Earth, "The attempt by the European Union to liberalise what the WTO calls 'environmental services' is in fact an attack on public services for water and wastewater. The EU request appears to be completely at odds with environmental protection."



Public Citizen recently wrote state and local officials about the ongoing GATS negotiations because in the past - for instance when the WTO was formed - U.S. trade negotiators made binding commitments regarding state and local regulatory authority without formally consulting state legislatures and other local officials. In a February 3, 2003, letter to state attorneys general, Public Citizen warned: "State and local authority could be curtailed profoundly and the constitutional balances of federalism irreversibly biased if states do not act now to protect their interests during these ongoing negotiations."



"The USTR should not be making any commitments with regard to service sectors regulated by the states without a comprehensive consultation process with governors and state legislatures," said Minnesota State Senator Sandra Pappas. "We make the laws, we don't want them undone in a global trade agreement few of us have even heard about."



The GATS was first established in 1994 as one of the Uruguay Round Agreements enforced by the WTO. The global services "trade pact" has little to do with traditional notions of trade, but rather creates new rights for foreign corporations to establish service businesses within another country's borders or to send employees into other countries to perform services. It also sets strict constraints on government regulation in the service sector - even when those policies treat domestic and foreign services the same. GATS promotes privatisation of public services and requires governments to offer compensation to other WTO countries if they take a privatised service back into the public realm. All signatories to the WTO are required to change their federal, state and local laws to conform to the WTO's rules.



Since 2000, negotiators from the 100-plus WTO member countries have been engaged in closed-door negotiations in Geneva to further expand the scope of the GATS. Called "GATS 2000," these talks are being pushed by the United States and the EU on behalf of major multinational service-sector conglomerates. The negotiations are aimed at seeking "progressive liberalisation" of services, in part by bringing all service sectors under the disciplines of the GATS rules. Since GATS is geared toward market access for foreign competitors, the agreement is hostile to regulation in general and in particular to the diversity of domestic regulations in the U.S. that vary from state to state. GATS allows federal, state and local regulations to be challenged as barriers to trade if they are not designed in the least trade restrictive manner.























To view a fact sheet on the EU's demands, go to this website


EU Enlargement: proposed treaties analysed

A detailed analysis of the EU accession treaty, as well as the full text of the treaty, has been posted by Statewatch here



EU Finance Ministers: UK would have to cut public spending by £10bn in the euro

 

The ECOFIN council of Finance Ministers this week warned Gordon Brown for the first time that the UK was in danger of breaching the 3 percent budget deficit limit imposed by the Stability and Growth Pact. The Council criticised the British government’s spending plans saying, “such budgetary plans could lead to a deficit that could potentially break the 3 percent of GDP limit and consequently would not be in line with Stability and Growth Pact”. The Council blamed over-optimistic growth projections for the deficit risk and the Finnish Finance Minister said that Brown’s public spending plans were “going in the wrong direction”.

 

The Council recommendation would mean that Brown would have to make spending cuts of £10bn or raise the basic rate of income tax by 3p if the UK were in the euro. Noting that the UK intends to run a deficit of 1.5 percent in the medium-term, the Council recommended that “the UK authorities should aim for a medium-term budgetary position that is in line with the close-to-balance requirement of the pact”. Close-to-balance is widely understood to mean a deficit of no more than 0.5 percent, meaning that public spending would need to be reduced by 1 percent of GDP, or £10bn.

 

The UK Treasury itself defended its spending plans saying that they were not “profligate” and a Treasury spokesman told the Times that the Council recommendation would not lead to any changes in Brown’s spending programme.

 

This latest recommendation from ECOFIN is a slap in the face for the Treasury and a blow for Tony Blair’s plans to take Britain into the euro. ECOFIN has given Tony Blair a straight choice: he can either join the euro or continue the investment in schools and hospitals that he was elected to make.

 

Thanks to the UK  "No" campaign for this report

 

Australian Experts Warn Attack on Iraq Could End in International Court


SYDNEY, Feb 26 - An attack on Iraq by a "coalition of the willing" would be a violation of international law that could end in the world court, 43 Australian legal experts warned here Wednesday.  Read the rest at here and don't forget to visit Green Left weekly at http://www.greenleft.org.au for more news of the Australian anti-war movement.



The war and premeditated genocide: What is at stake?




...is the question posed by James Petras in a recent article for Rebelión. "According to UN estimates over 10 million Iraqis will be killed, injured,displaced or traumatized by the U.S. war of aggression. It is highly likely that U.S. military intelligence figures coincide. Washington has put in place a military plan involving hundreds of war planes and a sea armada directed to dropping thousands of tons of explosives on Iraqi cities, towns, essential infrastructure and defense installations. The mass media around the world report each and every ground, air and sea deployment in greater or lesser specificity. U.S. public officials openly speak of the systematic destruction, plunder and prolonged occupation of Iraq." The rest of Petras' answer is at here


"Nice little country you got here. Be a shame if anything was to happen to it..."



UNITED NATIONS — Senior U.S. officials have been quietly dispatched in recent days to the capitals of key Security Council countries where they are warning leaders to vote with the United States on Iraq or risk "paying a heavy price." Rest of the week's least surprising news at here

 

Definitely against Starfleet protocols...

 

"In this famous scene at the start of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, an early humanoid discovers his brute power while playing with bones. In the aftermath of the ensuring carnage that follows the attempted invasion by another humanoid tribe, Kubrick cuts away in an upward pan to the sky following a bone as it rises high in the sky - until millions of years later it morphes into an orbiting nuclear cannon - creating just one of the many subtle subtexts of this brillant sci-fi... and where Kubrick asks us to ponder where will it all end." Read the rest of "Nuclear Power In Space And The Impact On Earth's Ecosystem" by Bruce K. Gagnon at here

 

A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall

 

The Sunshine Project recently obtained a copy of a US Navy proposal to develop new weather modification weapons to impede movement by floods or blizzards & to disrupt enemies' economy by "floods, droughts, etc." via the Freedom of Information Act (after 18 months of delays). Read it at here

 

UK: Surveillance of communications doubles under Labour




A special analysis on the surveillance of telecommunications by Statewatch shows that the authorised surveillance in England, Wales and Scotland has more than doubled since the

Labour government came to power in 1997. Read it at here

 

Electronic Iraq

 

http://electroniciraq.net/news/1.shtml



A new online news project, Electronic Iraq,  has been launched by veteran antiwar campaigners Voices in the Wilderness and respected Middle East supplementary news publishers, the Electronic Intifada. Take a look at www.electronicIraq.net



Not in our name

...is a 15-minute video by Nadja that includes footage from demonstrations in Washington DC and Boston against the war in Iraq and the curtailment of civil liberties; and from lectures by Scott Ritter, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn. The video conveys its anti-war message through editing and juxtaposition; there is no narration except through the language of images itself. The images were taken between November 2001 and November 2002. If your equipment is up to it, the video can been seen on-line at http://www.atsweb.neu.edu/bostonmodernism/dada2/html


Uncaged

 

Uncaged, the British anti-vivisection group, has added a section to its website focussing specifically on the political institutions and individuals charged with taking the decisions that determine whether and how animals are used in scientific testing. The point, Uncaged says, is "to stimulate debate among committed animal activists, and reveal to the public at large the undemocratic and unfair political behaviour that gives animals, in particular, a raw deal." Go to

http://www.uncaged.co.uk/political.htm

 

Greeks respond to outcry over slaughter of dogs and cats

 

Our recent story about the slaughter of dogs and cats in Athens as part of the city's preparations for the EU presidency, has a happy ending. Emmanouil Bakopoulos, Greek Member of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), informs us that the Athens 2004 Committee, charged with organising the 2004 Olympic games, has agreed to donate 100,000sqm in Attica to build a dog sanctuary.



The Committee hopes that the initiative will create nationwide interest in alleviating the suffering of some 700,000 stray cats and dogs in Greece. The sanctuary would be able to accommodate up to 1000 animals in a programme that would include collection and medical care. Plans also include information and awareness-raising campaigns and a programme for adopting the strays. However, the Committee has yet to find funding for their ambitious project.



Commenting on the news, Mr Bakopoulos said: "I welcome the decision by Athens 2004 to undertake such an important political initiative. However, it saddens me to see that this effort is independent of the government. It is up to the government and local authorities to establish a nationwide programme for the identification and neutering of strays. The government should also establish an educational programme on responsible pet ownership and make sure that existing animal protection laws are enforced."



Correction





 

Thanks to Mariana Barrancos of Buenos Aires for pointing out that Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose letter to "President" Bush we carried last week, is not from her country but from Colombia. Mariana wasn't trying to disown the man, however - she says she wishes he was Argentine. She also agreed when we suggested that he and his work belong to all of us and none of us, the whole human race. Still, being long-term residents in Belgium we have a lot of experience of this kind of thing: the number of people who think that Jacques Brel, Tin Tin, Simenon and numerous other Belgian icons were or are French is depressing.

 

And finally, if you're looking for a job...

 

The Democracy Action Project is seeking a dynamic, creative organizer to coordinate and manage the Democracy Action Project network and to organize Democracy Summer 2003 (DAP’s primary gathering and training of the year). DAP is seeking a person with experience of organizing who is dedicated to playing a leading role in the future development of the Democracy Action Project. Closing date for applications is 5th March. So write straight away to   Amy Quinn, a-quinn@mindspring.com for more details.