BBC World coverage of leaked EU Requests


GATS Basics

GATS 2000

GATS Debate






Water Privatisation and the EU

BBC World (TV), 25 February 2019

Intro: […] that weaken the abilities of poor countries to regulate their own affairs. This exclusive report from our developing world correspondent David Loyn.

DL: Privatisation of basic services has not had a good start in the developing world. Enron were pushed out of India, even before the company collapsed world-wide. But the European Union want to press ahead with demands to privatise services right across the developing world. The full scale of those demands has only become apparent in documents leaked to the BBC.

DL: One effect of this leak is that for the first time these countries, some of them among the smallest and frailest economies in the world, know what has been asked of other countries on the list. Campaigners say it shows the gap between rethoric and reality in Europe. That while European countries say they're for development, really all they're out for is the narrow self-interest of multinationals.

Barry Coates (WDM): This is often reported to be a development agenda, but in fact it's a one-size fits all, let's have benefits for our companies and access to the markets of the developing world.

DL: Trinidad has already had a taste of privatisation, but when a thousand workers lost their jobs after the sell-off, protests meant that the British company Severn Trent Water did not have their contract renewed. The leader of those protests compares today's European demands with the slave trade: "They are consistently using the same approach., […] modernise […] and call it the WTO, GATS, but what they are doing is plundering the wealth of our nation."

DL: During the long negotiations, one frustrated Indian official said it's like chasing a black cat in a dark room blindfolded. The leak of these documents means that the blindfold has at least been taken off.

David Loyn, BBC News.

Live interview with Pascal Lamy

BBC World (TV), 25 February 2019, 20:00 GMT

Intro: […] the world's poorest countries to strip away laws restricting the activities of multinational corporations. Campaigners say the demands, pushed during the latest round of trade negotiations, would allow foreign companies to buy up essential public services like water and electricity. This report from our developing world correspondent, David Loyn.

DL: The sell-off of essential services is becoming one of the most contentious issues in developing countries. The big protest march at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg was mainly about this single issue as South Africans protested about the loss of jobs and rising prices for water and electricity after privatisation.

DL: It's the same story elsewhere. In Trinidad, a thousand jobs in water were lost when a British company, Severn Trent Water, took over. The company did not win a new contract after three years, following sustained protests.

Trinidad Protest Leader: "there must be some kind of partnership arrangement, but I think that Europe is still playing the slave master and I think they are still playing the big brother, the vicious big brother…"

Female Voice: Severn Trent put out this statement in response: "Severn Trent Water International's involvement with the management contract produced a more effective water service to Trinidad and Tobago and set strong foundations for the future."

[Leafing through the leaked EU requests]
DL: These documents, which are marked restricted, have not been publicly available until now. The secrecy of the process has enabled Europe to pick off developing countries one by one. Well, now for the first time, it's possible to test what politicians say against what they do. While Europe says there is no threat to state-ownership of water supplies, campaigners talk about global take-over of essential services, as country after country is being asked to open up key areas like water to foreign investors. And one size is made to fit all. The documents reveal a remarkable similarity between the demands made on the poorest countries as if there is only one route to wealth.

Barry Coates (WDM): "This agreement is as kind of showing through these requests, is squarely in the interest of multinational companies. This is not about development but primarily about access for multinationals from rich the countries to the resources of the developing world."

DL: In the end, something has to be done about the chronic shortage of clean water and access to energy in countries like South Africa. But is there a better way forward, than the political storm caused by privatisation?

David Loyn, BBC News

BBC: Well I'm joined from Brussels now by the European Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy. Mr. Lamy, why has it taken leaks like this for this information to come out?

PL: Well I mean: what is all this about? It's about trade opening in services and we are good at banking, insurance, maritime transport, and we want markets to be open in these areas. The Indians are good at computer programming, the Chinese are good at interpreting conferences and they want our markets to be open. So each and everyone of us has its strong points and we want more of that because this is good for growth and for jobs.

PL: It's not about deregulation. It's not about privatisation. It's not about selling public utilities here and there. It's not about harmonising the rules which we keep our sovereignty and developing countries keep their sovereignty on the rules to which each and every service provider is submitted.

BBC: But many of the developing countries have rules to specifically protect their utilities, and you're asking them to lift those, presumably those rules are…

PL: No, no not at all. No, I'm sorry, but we're not asking that at all. If I have a water system, I can, whichever country I am, whether I'm European, African or Latin-American, decide on the rules according to which water will be distributed. Opening trade in services just means that I'm ready that foreign companies are going simultaneously with my national companies to operate in this sector according to the same rules.

BBC: But would you not admit that…

PL: So it's not about changing the rules at all.

BBC: Would you not admit that the record on liberalisation of trade is not good in many developing countries, if for instance you look at the examples that we just had there in the report of Trinidad, or for instance Bolivia, where the privatisation of a water company actually led to prices going up by 200% and riots in which people were killed. So it's not a good record, is it? I mean, surely it's something that the EU should be distancing itself from?

PL: I'm sorry to say, but you're talking about an example where it's about privatisation. The European Union is not asking for privatisation, nor by the way are we ready to privatise our public services. You can run public services whether they are public or private. We are not asking at all for privatisation. You can open trade in services if you are willing to do that and nobody is obliged to do that. We can do it and we ask this in domains where we are good. Developing countries ask us to open our markets in areas where they are good. So, please do not confuse opening trade in services and liberalisation or privatisation. This has nothing to do - we've never asked in any sort of request, any sort of negotiation, whether it is multilateral or bilateral, deregulation or privatisation, and we will not do it, I will not do it.

BBC: Let me put another accusation to you from many development campaigners, which is that there is a hypocrisy here, because the EU won't open its markets in agriculture, which is one of the most protected and overly subsidised markets in the world, and yet you're asking them in the Third World to open their markets up in utilities.

PL: Of course. Of course. We are committed in this negotiation, to open more our markets in agriculture to developing countries, to decrease our internal support and to decrease the sort of support which we give to our exports. Yes, we are committed to do this, and this is part of the negotiation.

BBC: So you're saying to them: if you open up your markets, utility markets, we'll open up agriculture, is that what is going on?

PL: We've agreed, the 140 members of the WTO, have agreed two years ago on a program of negotiations which is about market access in industry - let's remind that industry is 80% of world trade and 75% of the exports of European countries - about agriculture, about services, but also about the rules book of the WTO, so there's a big sort of bag of topics in the negotiations and at the end of the day we will make a package of all this. Of course it is a negotiation.

BBC: Mr. Lamy, I'm afraid we have to tighten it up there, but thank you very much.

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