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In secret, governments are negotiating the end to all not-for profit public services. In less than 2 years, 130 plus governments expect to quietly sign an agreement called GATS, General Agreement on Trade in Services. This binding and irreversible treaty will lay all government services open for international tender, and no doubt international labour, that is, foreign, lower paid nurses, teachers, builders, water technicians, posties, media, maintenance, childcare and transport workers.

Public services are next in line for the WTO's corporate battering ram. Global corporations have been so successful in persuading governments everywhere that their agendas are the same - that the pursuit of corporate profit and the good of society are one and the same - that their access to many areas of public life has already been improved. Quality of service and democratic access has not necessarily improved.

Services is the fastest growing sector in international trade, and employs 72% of Australians. Services offer rich pickings for canny corporations. And of all public services, health, education and water are shaping up to be the most lucrative. Global expenditures on water services now exceed $1 trillion every year; on education, they exceed $2 trillion; and on health care, they exceed $3.5 trillion. Since multinationals pay little tax, these services are becoming increasingly hard for governments to provide. The USA might suggest a model for the dismantling of public services which GATS will unleash all over the world. In fact, much of the GATS policies and the World Trade Organization policies are designed to increase USA mega corporation domination of world markets.

In America, health care has already become a huge business, with giant healthcare corporations registered on the New York Stock Exchange. Rick Scott, the president of Columbia, the world's largest for-profit hospital corporation, is clear that health care is a business, no different to any widget manufacturer. He has publicly vowed to destroy every public hospital in North America - doctors, he says, are not 'good corporate citizens'. Americans spend twice as much on Health as a percent of their bloated GNP as Australia, yet over-service the rich, and cannot really care for 40 million of their own increasingly large poor segment of society.

Meanwhile, investment houses like Merrill Lynch are already predicting that public education will be globally privatised over the next decade the way public health has been. They say there is an untold amount of profit to be made when this happens. The European Union recently announced that every publicly- run school in Europe must be twinned with a corporation by the end of the decade. The conquest of foreign market and support of big business has now become a key common strategy among universities around the world. So much for academic freedom!

Disturbingly, GATS also includes authority over 'environmental services' and natural resource protection. Our parks, wildlife, river systems, and forests could all become contested areas as global transnational 'environmental service' corporations demand the competitive model. The fate of our sacred and essential soil and water is at great risk.

Many parts of the 'Third World' have been forced to dismantle their public infrastructures in recent decades under International Monetary Fund - imposed structural adjustment programs. In order to be eligible for debt relief, for example, dozens of 'developing' countries have been forced to abandon public social programs over the last 20 years. Foreign corporations have come in and sold their health and education 'products' to wealthy elites ''consumers'. Billions are now without basic social services, with a lower standard of living than 20 years ago in 100 countries! Latin American countries are currently experiencing an invasion of US healthcare corporations.

Asian countries allow branch plants of foreign-based university and health care chains. Recently, the World Bank has been forcing the same countries to privatise their water services and are openly working with corporate water giants like Vivendi and Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, to establish their 'rights' to profiteer in the Third World. Bolivian people have been shot protesting water charges that cost a third of their wages. Water may be bought and internationally shipped according to WTO rules. When the market rules, the rich get most of whatever is valuable!

Now, through the GATS negotiations, these corporations want binding and irreversible rules guaranteeing them access to government service contracts everywhere in the world. And they are succeeding. Already, over 40 countries, including all of Europe, have listed education within the realm of the GATS, opening up their public education sectors of foreign based corporate competition. Almost 100 countries have done the same with healthcare. As the new talks progress, it will be very hard for any country to swim against the tide - even if any are brave enough to try.

Frighteningly, there can be no local restrictions on quality of graduates and service standards, this would be seen as a "barrier to free trade". Does the WTO want us all to live and shop like Americans? Or die if we're too poor to do so? If we all lived like Americans we'd need three planets!! How will 72% of Australian workers in health, environment, childcare, transport, tourist, broadcast, social work, dentist, teaching, office staff feel if cheap foreign labour can come in? How can we complain when, like Australian refugee / prison workers are controlled by a USA corporation like Wackenhut, which is brutal to staff and refugees and prisoners in its "care". And to whom can you complain if governments have given away all their serious roles; perhaps we will just have a branch office of the WTO; secret, undemocratic and only interested in money.

We better start spreading the word soon!! While we still have shreds of democracy and objective media and unions. Ask your cowardly pollies why they are silent on this issue!! Remember Beasley and Howard wanted us to sign the MAI Treaty, later shown not to be in Australia's interests!! Perhaps some of the 700 billion dollars that has come into Australia in the last three decades to buy our industry and land, the profits of which leave Australia untaxed, has influenced Canberra. Perhaps its their superannuation (retirement package)! What do you think? What will your children think? 

Please reprint (copy & paste) this and pass on!!

Dr E. Elliott with Maud Barlow,
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