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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


Application of GATS Regulations

The second concern about the application of GATS to public services is how the relevant articles will apply to publicly funded services that are not exempt from the regulations of the agreement. There are two levels of regulations that services may be exposed to under GATS: the first set of regulations are referred to as 'general obligations' and apply to all services which are not specifically exempted by a member government in the agreement, while the second set applies only to services that a member government submits to the standard (WTO, The General). Member governments are under pressure from their trading partners to submit many services to the second set of regulations because they are more stringent and effectively open markets to foreign competition.

The first set of regulations come from Articles 2 and 3 of the agreement. Article 2 Most Favoured Nation Treatment specifies that a government must treat all other WTO member governments equally when opening a particular service market to trade (WTO, The General). So if Canada has negotiated to allow American companies to provide telecommunication service within Canada, then Canada must allow companies from every other WTO country to provide that service in Canada if they chose too. Article 3 Transparency requires all members to "publish all measures of general application and establish national inquiry points" for other WTO members (WTO, The General). This article sets a level playing field for all competitors in the marketplace. No one competitor can benefit from special knowledge about a particular set of regulations or rules about the telecommunications sector in Canada. The government must provide the same information to all competitors from WTO countries. These measures if imposed to government-supplied services appear to have no affect on those services.

It is the second set of GATS regulations that cause concern for many publicly funded service sectors. Services can be scheduled or selected by individual governments to fall under these rules. According to Woodroffe and Joy, this optional structure of the second set of regulations is unusual and this alone is indicative of the concern among negotiators about the scope of the agreement (5). Of these provisions, three may play a significant role in publicly funded services such as libraries: Article 17 National Treatment, Article 16 Market Access, and Article 8 Monopolies.

Steven Shrybman, a lawyer specializing in international trade, was commissioned by the Canadian Library Association to write a report about the possible ramifications of the GATS for publicly funded libraries in Canada. Although his focus was on libraries, the same concerns can be raised for other publicly funded services in Canada and elsewhere. The National Treatment provision requires governments to "not operate discriminatory measures benefiting domestic services or service suppliers" (WTO, The General). Shrybman points out that this article is particularly troubling because it does not distinguish between public non-profit services and private for-profit providers and that it applies to subsidies received from governments to public services (Shrybman, 11-14). Shrybman also voices concern about Article 16 Market Access because although this clause deals with the opening of all modes of service delivery for scheduled sectors, it may limit the ability of governments to require only certain types of providers to provide the service and could also limit the a government's ability to discriminate in favour of publicly-funded service providers (12). Finally, Article 8 Monopolies asserts that all state monopolies must comply with GATS and not abuse their monopoly postion. Shrybman believes that this clause may play a major role in the future of public service providers as it has already been used in a recent claim against Canada Post by the United Parcel Service of America (12).

Woodroffe and Joy, who agree with Shrybman's concern regarding these clauses, point out that governments can limit GATS commitments made in any service sector (6) The WTO counters the concerns expressed by Shyrbman as it states, in its own documentation, that the articles are not binding to every service sector and that it is legitimate for any country to

  1. maintain a monopoly
  2. to open the service to competition but to only allow national companies to compete
  3. to open the service to both national and foreign competitors without making GATS commitments
  4. or to make GATS commitments that give foreign companies the right to compete with national firms in any sector depending on the level of commitments agreed to by the government in its negotiations (WTO, GATS 13).

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