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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


Where GATS Stands Today

GATS is the only multilateral agreement which governs trades in services: other international trade treaties such as GATT and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) govern trade in goods (WTO, GATS 2). "GATS is not a finished treaty but an open-ended framework agreement that mandates 'successive rounds of negotiations'" (George). In February 2000, talks began at the WTO to expand the 1995 General Agreement on Trade in Services and further liberalize trade (Wesselius, 3). These new negotiations are scheduled to end on January 1, 2005.

The American agenda has pushed this agreement, as it does with so many international agreements, and the American government has been eager to liberalize trade since almost three-quarters of the U.S. economy is based on services. The Canadian position on trade has been similar because its economy is comprised almost two-thirds by the service sector (Hook, 18-19). Canada, the United States, the European Union, and Japan make up the most powerful negotiating group in the WTO which is known the "Quad". The Quad steers the direction of negotiations and the agenda set for the WTO. The former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United Nations (UN), noted, in a UN panel discussion in 2001, that the result of the direction set by the Quad has been an emphasis in tariff reduction has been on technologically advanced goods and services and little negotiation to reduce tariffs on low-technology goods such as textiles. The result has been that while the average tariff on high-tech goods is only three percent, tariffs on textiles are thirty-three percent (Kamal).

Not surprisingly, the concerns of businesses are the primary focus of negotiations for this agreement and as a result corporations are deeply involved in influencing government strategy. The reliance of governments on the corporate sector for input during negotiations has raised concerns among citizen's groups, such as Transnational Institute and GATSwatch. These groups feel that the democratic process is being subverted and that governments are not paying appropriate attention to the concerns their citizens as the negotiations are not transparent to the public. To counteract this influence, Transnational Institute and GATSwatch would like to see more direct citizen involvement in GATS negotiations. To make their point, they have been active in protesting WTO meetings to raise awareness of this problem.

The WTO rejects these concerns as it points out that representing the interests of citizens is a function of government and that the appropriate venue for concerns to be raised is with individual governments rather than seeking to be heard at the WTO meetings (WTO, WTO Policy 13). This argument has merit as typically international agreements are negotiated by governments and do not involve citizens in the negotiation process. Citizens can influence their governments by direct lobbying or dialogue with government officials.

In terms of informing the public about its negotiations and processes, it should be noted that the WTO does rate highly when judged in comparison to other international organizations. A report published last month from One World Trust, a watchdog organization with a focus on international law, rated the WTO highly in terms of provision of information and moderately in terms of member control when compared with 17 other international bodies, including: Amnesty International, the World Bank, the Red Cross, Oxfam, Microsoft, and Shell. The authors of the report placed the WTO third in providing access to information on its web site and eighth for member control of the organization (Kovach, Neligan and Burral, vi). The high score for online information access was in part due to information being provided in multiple languages and for the incredible wealth of information provided on the WTO web site. However, while the WTO was rated high on the provision of information, that information is not always easily accessible. For example, locating the actual text of the GATS agreement on the WTO web site is no easy feat. It took the researcher of this web site several days to locate that text and for that reason a link to the text is included in the resources page of this site. The lower score for member control was attributed to the fact that 25 Member governments do not have permanent offices in Geneva which limits their ability to participate in debates although this was offset by full representation of members in the executive and the consensus structure of the negotiations (Kovach, Neligan and Burral, 14-15).

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