"Trading Health Care Away? GATS, Public Services and Privatisation"

by Sarah Sexton

Even before its meeting in November this year in Qatar, the WTO has already begun talks to expand one of its agreements - the General Agreement on Trade in Services or GATS.

Services are now a significant part of the economies of industrialised countries and are governed by complex domestic regulations. These countries are now trying to revise the Agreement to increase international trade in services. If they are successful, GATS could be used to overturn almost any legislation governing services from national to local level.

Particularly under threat from GATS are public services - health care, education, energy, water and sanitation, for instance. A revised GATS could give the for-profit sector further access and could make existing privatisations effectively irreversible.

Experience in the United States and several Latin American countries, where health services have been run for profit over the past decade or so, suggests that the result will be a decline in accessibility to health care worldwide.

This briefing outlines the growth in services in recent years, the main provisions of GATS and its proposed revisions, and some key corporate aims in extending the Agreement. It details how public services may not in fact be excluded from GATS.

It considers what may happen if private companies are enabled to capture the most profitable components of publicly-provided and -funded health care services: a two-tier health system in which a reduced public sector has to cope with the elderly, chronically sick and the poor who most need health care and who can least afford it..

Sarah Sexton/Larry Lohmann/Nicholas HildyardÊ
PO Box 3137Ê
Station RoadÊ
Sturminster NewtonÊ
Dorset DT10 1YJÊ
Tel: +44 (0)1258 473795 Fax: +44 (0)1258 473748 Email Ê