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Politics of scale and strategic selectivity in the liberalisation of public services – the role of trade in services

By Werner Raza. One of the most contentious issues of the neoliberal agenda has been the privatisation of public services. The WTO GATS negotiations over the liberalisation of trade in services, which commenced in the year 2000, led to a strongly contested debate over whether the international level would provide an additional channel for the privatisation of public services. In particular, the position of the European Union was criticised for promoting this agenda. More recently, this question has regained its significance with the start of negotiations for the Trade in Services Agreement and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Thus, this article seeks to analyse the politics of scale in the field of trade in services and its specific impact upon the liberalisation of public services. By applying a Neo-Poulantzian IPE approach, we propose a typology of (i) scalar forms in trade policy and (ii) of particular liberalisation strategies. Our results suggest that the multilateral level is but one element in a strategic politics of scale, with the former primarily fulfilling the role of locking-in liberalisation gains achieved at other levels, while other scalar forms, in particular bi- and plurilateralism, are primarily used to progressively advance the liberalisation agenda. KEYWORDS: Public services, liberalisation, trade in services, politics of scale, Poulantzas