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Great Lakes Article:

Ruth Caplan
The Alliance for Democracy

Despite frequent denials by European trade officials, they are targeting public services in the current round of services negotiations. The Alliance for Democracy has received leaked official European Commission documents confirming that municipal water/sewer systems in the United States are on the negotiating table.

The documents, being made public today by the Polaris Institute of Canada, are available at They reveal that the European Commission (EC) has requested that the United States, along with many developing countries, adopt favorable trade rules to help open its municipal water/sewer systems to competition by European corporations.

The negotiations are taking place to expand the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), one of the agreements under the authority of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO deadline for initial offers in response to the requests is March 31, 2003.

Each restricted document states: "Member States are requested to ensure that this text is not made publicly available and is treated as a restricted document." The public was never supposed to know what public services were being traded away in secret bilateral negotiations among the 145 WTO member countries until all the deals had been cut.

"Municipal water/sewer systems are under a GATS attack and local officials have not even been told. Secret negotiations about the public's right to water is not how democracy should work," observed Ruth Caplan, coordinator of the Alliance for Democracy's trade campaign.

"It is time for United States to make its requests and offers public," Caplan stated. "The public needs to know whether the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) headed by Robert Zoellick will protect essential public services or trade them away in response to the European requests. The Alliance calls on USTR to make public all its requests to other countries immediately and to make its offers public as soon as they are made." To date only unsatisfactory general summaries of the requests have been released.

"Today the cat is out of the bag. We're not talking bananas here. The EU is going after our basic public water/sewer services so their mega-corporations can make big bucks in the U.S. market," said Ruth Caplan.

The EC is specifically requesting that its corporations be given market access for "Water collection, purification and distribution services through mains" within United States' boundaries. This classification under "Water for Human Use & Wastewater Management" has been created by the EC.

The EU also wants their water corporations to be treated at least as well as U.S. companies in all measures affecting municipal services, even measures which might be construed to modify the conditions of competition. Almost all local regulations could be under threat. Where the U.S.had previously agreed to opening up waste water services for private industry, the EC wants public services opened up as well.

"The EC pats itself on the back for fully defending its own public services by not making any commitments on education and health services, but goes ahead with asking that the United States and developing countries open up their publicly-owned municipal water/sewer systems. They are simply doing the bidding of Vivendi, Suez and RWE/Thames, the giant European corporations which want access to water service markets," according to Caplan. "This is a lucrative market for EC corporations since about 80% of local water/sewer systems are still in public hands."

The track record of Vivendi, Suez and Thames has not been good. Atlanta just terminated its contract with Suez subsidiary United Water due to poor performance. Vivendi has performed very poorly in Great Britain, Puerto Rico and Argentina. Thames' environmental record in Great Britain includes 233 pollution incidents and 8 prosecutions in 1999 alone, according to research by Public Services International. GATS locks in commitments made to open up specific services to foreign competition, so once the U.S. commits to including >water/sewer services, they will not be able to back out.

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