Ongoing negotiations require countries to make requests for services to be opened to competition in other countries and then make offers of which services they themselves are willing to open up. Once commitments have been agreed they are not reversible and any privatization and liberalization that has already occurred or does occur in the sector cannot be reversed. This ensures that the interests of foreign investors are protected.
As part of the official offers and requests process, the European Commission (EC) has requested that other nations open up their water sectors, large parts of their energy sectors including electricity, and other sectors such as transport, to competition from abroad. These requests were not an outcome of democratic decision making in Europe but were kept secret until they were leaked.
There are ongoing efforts to keep GATS offers and requests secret and therefore to inhibit public debate and democratic input into decision-making. In January 2003, Pascal Lamy, the EC trade commissioner advised governments that they would not be able to distribute copies of offers to their parliaments.
The Corporate Europe Observatory argues that these requests show that the EC intends ‘to use the GATS talks to deregulate and de facto privatise essential services, particularly in the South’.
According to the World Development Movement, any developing country escaping privatization of services under World Bank or IMF structural adjustment packages, or seeking to reverse them, ‘will feel a left hook coming in from the WTO’. It notes that if GATS negotiations are successful, ‘governments will be forced to privatise services and the sale will be irreversible’.
Moreover, GATS will provide an excuse for governments that want to privatize against the will of the people, for reasons of corruption or ideology or misconception. They can pass on responsibility for the decision to the WTO which has required it.
Business coalitions with the support of government bureaucracies, intend to assure the expansion of GATS through lobbying, persuasion, influence, and pressure. On its web page the EC calls on business to network; to provide advice to negotiators; to persuade governments in countries where they do business of the benefits of free trade in services; and to generally spread the good news at home and abroad.