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EU ignores civil society demand for transparency in WTO services negotiations

Amsterdam, 11 June 2019 -- A strong call for transparency in the European Union's preparations for the WTO services negotiations (GATS), issued by over 90 civil society groups from across Europe on 7 May 2019, is being completely ignored by the European Union and its member states. (1)

As Erik Wesselius (GATSwatch) comments: ''After the demise of the MAI in 1998 and the breakdown of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle in 1999, one would expect the European Union to choose a more open approach in international trade negotiations. The questionable way in which the EU continues to prepare detailed requests for liberalisation of trade in services shows that, unfortunately, old habits die hard.''

According to government sources, the European Union has stepped up secrecy surrounding its preparations for the GATS talks. Over a hundred draft GATS negotiating documents are now being rushed through in a secretive and undemocratic process by the European Commission and Member State trade experts. These draft documents contain controversial demands to other WTO member states to liberalise service sectors like water, energy, transport, tourism, construction and distribution. By 30 June the EU needs to submit its service liberalisation requests to the WTO, as agreed at the 4th WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha. (2)

According to the government sources, EU member state governments are not allowed to make copies of the European Commission's draft documents to facilitate intra-governmental consultation. EU Member States Comments have less than two weeks to send back any comments to the European Commission. These conditions rule out scrutiny by national parliaments and a proper intra-governmental consultation process.

Such a lack of transparency and effective democratic control of the EU's GATS negotiating strategy and objectives is very serious. Services, particularly public services, play a crucial role in modern societies. Liberalisation and market opening of services are sensitive issues and should not take place without full public disclosure and debate, where EU GATS negotiators confront European citizens and parliamentarians with "faits accomplis".

Notes to editors:

(1) Open letter to EU Trade Commissioner Lamy and EU member states (7 May 2019), demanding the publication of all EU requests on the EU website and an assessment of the GATS negotiations before proceeding with negotiations. Until today, neither the European Commission nor Member States have replied to the open letter.

(2) The draft EU request lists have to be approved by the EU Member States in the Committee 133, which consists of European Commission and Member State trade experts. A subsidiary body of the Committee 133, the so-called "Committee 133 ad hoc services", consisting of GATS experts from the Member States and the Commission, has two regular meetings scheduled before the June 30 deadline: on Wednesday 12 and Wednesday 26 June.

In April, 29 draft EU request lists were leaked to NGOs and published on this website.

Contact: Erik Wesselius, GATSwatch
Tel: +31-30-2364422 / E-mail: erik@gatswatch.org

GATSwatch is a joint project of Corporate Europe Observatory and Transnational Institute
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