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Public Services and the GATS - International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development

Rashad Cassim & Ian Steuart, School of Economic and Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg - (3rd Draft) "The strength of a society depends unequivocally upon a foundation that ensures the provision of a range of quality public services to all who need them, regardless of their ability to pay for them. It is perhaps perplexing then that the provision of public services, even those thought of as essential or basic services, is increasingly in the hands of private companies, leading inexorably to their commercialisation, threatening their reach to those that need them most, and potentially eroding the sustainability of their provision from both a social and environmental perspective. This subchapter aims to achieve the following: to provide an overview of the role and relevance of public services, and to examine the link between the provision of public services and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS); the primary vehicle of the liberalisation of services within a multilateral, rules-based system of international trade and therefore an area of specific concern. Consequently, with respect to the first aim, this subchapter will examine the evolution of “public services” and why it remains important to retain an element of government intervention in their provision. With respect to the second, the chapter will focus on the scope of the GATS and the tensions inherent in the interpretation of Article 1:3 of the GATS, which deals with the “public services” carve-out from the agreement. This subchapter is divided into 5 sections. After this Introduction, Section 2 will examine what is meant by “public services”, including the usefulness of the more restrictive conception of “essential” or “basic” services. Section 3 focuses on the role of public services in addressing sustainable development concerns, particularly the relationship between public services and their privatisation. Section 4 is devoted to the relationship between public services and the GATS. Much has been written on public services and the liberalisation of trade and this section aims at synthesis of arguments on both sides of the divide, which have become increasingly more vocal and passionate as the services negotiations in the WTO proceed as part of the Doha Development Round. Section 5 concludes."