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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


The WTO and Government Services

To respond to the public debate about the implications of these clauses for publicly funded services, the WTO states that there has been no question about the meaning of the phrase 'in the exercise of governmental authority' from any member government and therefore no further definition of the phrase is necessary (WTO, GATS 12). In a public document, the WTO acknowledges that some nongovernmental organizations concerned with public services have raised the concern that "GATS might result in the abolition of public funding for national institutions, on the ground that it undermines free trade" but assures the public that "[s]uch concerns are unfounded. There has never been any proposal, or even debate, in the WTO services context concerning the abolition of public funding: WTO Members would certainly never agree to that" (WTO, GATS 11).

However, it should be noted that the WTO does suffer from a credibility issue regarding its statements about what issues are likely to be negotiated between its members. The WTO also stated in its publication GATS: Fact and Fiction, which was produced in 2001, that no countries had made any GATS commitments regarding water and stated that would actually inconceivable that any government would do so (WTO, GATS 13). In a press release about Indonesia's trade policy in 1998, which was posted on the their own web site, the WTO noted that "Indonesia is gradually abandoning its traditional reliance on [g]overnment control and public monopolies in services. Infrastructural services (telecommunications, water supply, electricity) have been largely opened to FDI [foreign direct investment], financial services have been deregulated, and significant commitments were made in the GATS. [emphasis added]" (WTO, Trade). In another WTO document, which was leaked to the public in 2000, the European Community requested that Canada to open its services involving "Water collection, purification and distribution services through mains except steam and hot water" to foreign competition in the during the current rounds of negotiations (GATS 2000 19). This example based on the sensitive issue of water does lead one to question the veracity of such blanket statements as the previously noted statement about public funding.

Finally, the WTO asserts that "the issue [of government services] could only arise if a specific measure which had been challenged in dispute settlement were to be defended on the ground that it applied only to services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority and was therefore outside the scope of GATS" (GATS 12). In response to this statement, Shrybman replies "to simply leave the result to the vagaries of international dispute resolution is hardly a satisfactory response given the significance of the consequences of miscalculating the scope of GATS application" (25).

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