WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)

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Big Box Backlash: The Stealth Campaign at the World Trade Organization to Preempt Local Control Over Land Use

At one time, trade rules were designed to enhance trade in goods and therefore focused on the lowering of tariff and quotas. But today's "trade" agreements also seek to encourage international competition in a vast range of service sectors. The new trade agreements encompass "everything that you cannot drop on your foot," and include banking, telecommunications, postal services, tourism, transportation, waste disposal, oil and gas production and electricity. They also cover those services universally considered to be essential to human health and development, like healthcare, education and drinking water.

In many countries, citizen access to essential services as well as a fundamental function of government is to ensure and protect this access. Traditionally, this has meant that governments have provided the services themselves. While we often don't think of essential services as primarily profit-making operations, many essential services such as health care and schools have proved highly profitable when privatized and freed from public interest regulation. For corporations, health care and education represent a combined $5.5 trillion market worldwide, and the new trade agreements like the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) would increase their access to that market, without building in protections for consumers, workers or the environment.