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General Agreement on Trade in Services: 
A Resource for Librarians


What is GATS?

History of GATS

Present of GATS

GATS &  Gov't Services

WTO &  Gov't Services

Application of Regulations

Libraries as a Cultural Industry

Protecting Culture

Concerns for Libraries


Works Cited


GATS and Government Services

There are two major issues raised in the literature about GATS and its application to publicly funded service providers such as libraries. The first issue is the exemption of some services from all parts of the GATS agreement and the second issue pertains to the GATS articles that apply to services that are not exempt.

To begin with, not all services are or will be negotiated for inclusion to the GATS. An exception was made for services which fall into the general exemption of "government authority". These services are not required to be liberalized to trade in any way nor is any part of the air transport and traffic sectors (WTO, GATS 2). The exception of "services provided to the public in the exercise of governmental authority" is contentious because its meaning has not been clearly defined in GATS. In Article I(3) of the agreement there are two tests applied to the definition of a government provided service: first, it must not be offered on a commercial basis and second, it must not be provided in competition with other service providers (Shrybman, iv). If a service offered by the government fails these tests, then the government must withdraw from providing the service or fund all other providers equally. The WTO states that this position is straightforward and covers "social security schemes and any other public service, such as health or education, that is provided at non-market conditions" (WTO, The General).

However, as Hunt points out, these two tests actually make it difficult to determine what would qualify as a government service under GATS when those clauses are closely considered (32). Services such as health care and education have private for-profit suppliers, which 'in competition' with publicly funded and supplied services. Despite the assurances of the WTO, it would seem that these clauses would effectively exclude those services from the list of services offered in exercise of government authority.

Speaking for the Washington office of the ALA (American Library Association), Weingarten, Nisbet, and Sheketoff state that the purpose of the clauses, which limit government services in the GATS agreement, is to prevent countries from having nationalized commercial industries such as banking and telecommunications and that they clearly do not extend GATS to cover services such as police, education, and libraries although these services do have 'commercial analogs' (12). This view of the clause is supported by the American position on trade in education services, which acknowledges that "education to a large extent is a government function, but that most countries permit private education to co-exist with public education. The proposal, therefore, envisions that private education and training will continue to supplement, not displace public education systems" (WTO, GATS 12).

Weingarten, Nisbet, and Sheketoff also argue that all the services mentioned above are not provided on a commercial basis because the services are not purchased by consumers (12). While the argument may satisfy the commercial clause, it does not deal with the second limiting clause "in competition with one or more service suppliers" and while the American position is encouraging, that understanding must be included in the text of the GATS if it is to carry any weight in the interpretation of GATS.

Site created by Sandra Anderson in April, 2003 as part of
LIS 583 - Globalization, Diversity and Information, a course offered at the
School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta.
Please send all feedback about this site to Sandra Anderson