The WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) | World Development Movement

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Efforts by the World Development Movement... have got GATS exactly where the WTO does not want it to be: in the public domain

Nick Cohen, The Observer.

WDM worked on The General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) between 2000 and 2005.

Stop the GATS attack banner

Have you heard about the sale of the century? The world's services are up for grabs and the governments and corporations of rich countries are busy snapping up the best bargains from around the world. Following WDM's campaign, GATS moved from an obscure issue that no-one had heard of, to the political centre-stage.

From the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, we depend on services. We wouldn't get far without our water, health and education services, or our banks, telephone and transport systems. The service industry is huge - international trade in services is worth a staggering £1.5 million a minute.

A key role of governments should be both to ensure that people can get access to affordable basic services and to support the local economy. They do this through rules and regulations. For example, governments in many poor countries subsidise water supplies, transport and phone services in poor, rural areas by using profits generated from these services in densely populated urban areas.

But universal access to basic services and their adequate regulation are under threat with the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), part of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) package of legally binding rules on global trade.

The World Development Movement (WDM) believes that GATS spells bad news for people, especially those in poor countries. For poor countries, GATS is another barrier in their efforts to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

WDM GATS successes

WDM launched its GATS campaign in 2000, with a massive public meeting in London. Over 1000 people turned up to hear WDM speak alongside author-activists George Monbiot and Naomi Klein.

Highlights of WDM's GATS campaign include:


  • WDM supporters urge 262 MPs to sign an Early Day Motion calling for assessment of the impact of GATS.
  • Several local councils pass anti-GATS motions.


  • The International Development Committee in Parliament calls for a Commission on the trade in services.
  • The Association of University Teachers, the National Union of Students, Unison and the Scottish TUC all pass motions on GATS.
  • Major organisations, such as Save the Children and Christian Aid, follow WDM's lead and begin their own GATS investigations.
  • Leaked minutes of a high-level LOTIS committee of business and government reveal that WDM's campaign on GATS is causing them problems.
  • WDM's GATS campaign receives substantial media coverage, including Radio 4's You and Yours programme, Newsnight and The Face magazine.


  • The UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights adopts a resolution calling on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to conduct a full assessment of the impact of GATS.
  • In 2002, drafts of the European Union's (EU) GATS requests for 29 countries were sensationally leaked to GATS campaigners and the press.
  • In 2003, 25 Southern and Northern civil society groups declared their objections to GATS.
  • In 2003, European GATS campaigners scored a victory when European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy announced that the European Commission would not further commit Europe's health and education sectors to the free market rules of GATS.


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