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Minister Cuttaree forced to respond to Lalit's Campaign on GATS and Social Rights


Lalit's campaign on the WTO and GATS has compelled Minister Jayen Cuttaree, Minister of International Trade, to respond to us in the National Assembly. The multi-fold campaign of Lalit included a letter sent to the Minister, a poster campaign in the Minister's Constituency, a live debate between Lindsey Collen and the government Trade negotiator at the General Workers Federation Seminar and a Lalit's letter to all members of the National Assembly on the 13th of August. Minister Cuttaree, on the defensive, had to make a Ministerial Statement last Tuesday to respond to Lalit.

To enable our readers to fully grasp this interesting and vital debate, we are publishing here the Lalit's letter to members of the National Assembly and Minister Cuttaree official response.

Please keep posted to our website to view Lalit's replied to Minister Cuttaree's statement in the coming days.


Lalit's Letter to members of the National Assembly

13th August, 2003
Member of the National Assembly,
Government House,
Port Louis.

Dear Sir/Madam,

We write to you in concern that the National Assembly is not being kept informed about the Ministry of International Trade's putting up for auction the provision of the country's social services. We hope that you, as an elected person, will prevent the Government continuing its rather worrying tendency to sign up to neo-liberal treaties and then to beg for little exemptions here and there because of being a "small island state".

The World Trade Organization has been shrouded in secrecy since its inception in 1994. Not even elected representatives of the people have debated the important implications of the WTO. In particular, since the Doha meeting, we believe that you, as Parliamentarians, ought to be concerned about any possible secret "offers" that are being prepared or that have even been made through the Ministry of International Trade. Soon this Ministry will be inviting multi-national corporations to take-over part of the social services of the people of the country.

Do you realize that you will have been an elected member of the National Assembly at a time when education services, water, electricity, health-care services, pensions may be amongst those being secretly offered "for sale" by the Government behind the backs of the people? Have you taken your responsibility seriously enough as an elected representative of the interests of the people

In LALIT we have written to Minister Cuttaree to express our concern. We have called on him to make a complete public declaration of all the "offers" and "demands" already made or being prepared for the Cancun meeting of the WTO in Mexico next month.

We are sure you will not like to go down in history as a Parliamentarian who did nothing to prevent the "signing away" of the long fought-for social rights that have been acquired slowly since slavery, through indenture, in the struggle for workers' rights particularly in 1937 and 1943, and for Independence, and in the Post-Independence years? History will not easily forgive such inaction.

We remind you that the MSM-MMM had no mention in its Electoral Manifesto about privatizing social rights nor about selling social services to the private sector.

We also remind you that pressure from the people of the country was so strong against privatization during the electoral campaign of 2000 that Sir Aneerood Jugnauth, on the night of the proclamation of election results, promised that water would NOT be sold off.

Have you, as an elected MP, informed people in your constituency that once "offers" are made through the WTO for foreign private sector companies to come and "buy up" the provision of social services (education, water, health, pensions, etc) under the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (so-called GATS), that this is "irreversible"?

Once a service, say education, (or even part of a service, say "higher education") has been offered up for negotiations with multinational corporations, then if a democratic mandate from the people of Mauritius later demands change, so a future Minister says "No! Education is a right, not a mere commodity", then the Mauritian State will nevertheless owe "compensation" to international businessmen, because of the reckless offer made by some previous Minister. And if the State does not want to pay the "compensation" in money, then another social service (of the choice of the multinational company's country) has to be opened up for the international private sector to take over.

We are particularly concerned by the implication of the article in L'Express of 6th August, 2003 about Government arranging for the Bond University of Australia to come and "invest" in the higher education business in Mauritius. This encouragement is despite the havoc wreaked in South Africa by an Australian University demanding the same subsidies as government gives South African Universities, and pleading the WTO "National Treatment" clauses. This kind of process will very soon be a "virus" that leads to fee-paying in secondary education as well as in tertiary. Already a private "university" in Mauritius has started to dispense secondary education.

We remind you that Mauritius has since 1976 been a signatory to the UN Convention on Social and Economic Rights, which means the State has a duty to protect as fundamental human rights, citizens' right to water, to education, to health care, to pensions, to all social amenities. And these rights are supposed to involve the continual ongoing commitment of the State, and an increasing commitment. Since that time, there has been massive increase in the productivity of labour, world-wide as well as in Mauritius. Any thinking person would conclude that the State should be able to offer more and better universal social services. Minister Cuttaree should not be putting social service provision up for sale to the private sector.

Yours sincerely,
Lindsey Collen, for LALIT.
[Copy to President, Minister Cuttaree, Press]


Minister Cuttaree Statement in the National on the 19th August 2003.
(source Secretariat of the National Assembly

Debate No.33 of 19.08.2003

Statement by Minister: WTO - Trade in Services

The Minister of Industry and International Trade (Mr J.Cuttaree): Mr Speaker, Sir, there has been recently some speculation about the Mauritian position with regard to trade in services at the level of the WTO. In this context, some have raised certain unfounded fears regarding the dismantlement of social rights in Mauritius.

Mr Speaker, Sir, trade in services is a very new subject which came on the WTO agenda as a result of the Uruguay Round negotiations. The first-ever multilateral framework for conducting trade in services became operational as from 01 January 1995 following the entry into force of the WTO. This is known as the General Agreement on Trade in Services commonly called GATS which is an integral part of the WTO Agreement.

Given the complexity of the subject, my Ministry has taken a number of steps to sensitise the stakeholders and public at large on the essence of trade in services. These include :
my own public statements/declarations in media, conferences and Parliament;
organisation of national seminars/workshops with the assistance of the WTO and UNCTAD;
national consultations through the WTO Standing Coordination Committee which comprises representatives from public, private, para-statal and professional bodies;
active participation/contributions of my officers in workshops/seminars organised by trade unions/colleges/Chamber of Commerce, and
launching of a Master's Degree Course on International Trade at the University of Mauritius with the financial support of the Government. Here again, a special module on Trade in Services has been mounted with the help of my Ministry.

In some quarters, however, some people have stated that the Government has, in the context of the discussion on Trade in Services at WTO, taken commitments to do away with some social rights and public services.

Sir, I wish to point out that the scope and coverage of GATS are limited to commercial services only. Services supplied "in the exercise of Governmental authority" are excluded from GATS coverage. Therefore, the question of making offers on social rights, water, electricity, health and education does not even arise. Despite the exclusion of these services from the GATS coverage, some WTO partners have attempted to bring them on the table of the ongoing negotiations. However, this move has been strongly resisted by developing countries, including Mauritius.

There is nothing in GATS that requires the privatization or deregulation of any service. If for one reason or another a Government decides to privatize public services, GATS recognises the right of the WTO member to regulate and introduce new regulations on the supply of services.

There is also a serious misunderstanding of what constitutes an offer of commitments. An offer does not imply a "free-for-all" liberalisation but rather sets down the conditions and limitations that will govern the opening of the market for a particular service. There is nothing in GATS that urges WTO members to liberalise their service sectors overnight. GATS has laid down the basis for progressive liberalisation of trade in services and through successive rounds of negotiations. Developing countries are therefore accorded the flexibility to open fewer sectors of services and fewer types of transactions that will be commensurate with their level of development.

Accordingly, out of twelve broad categories of services recognised by the WTO, Mauritius, during the Uruguay Round, opted to make commitments in only three sectors of services, namely Tourism, Telecommunications and Financial Services. In all these commitments, Mauritius has inscribed adequate safeguards to protect our national interests. The twelve broad categories I mentioned above are: Business Services, Communication Services, Construction and Related Engineering Services, Distribution Services, Educational Services, Environmental Services, Financial Services, Health Related and Social Services, Tourism and Travel Related Services, Recreational, Cultural and Sporting Services, Transport Services and Other Services not included elsewhere.

In the current Doha Round of negotiations, several WTO members have made requests to Mauritius to take commitments in additional sectors of services. Mauritius has made it clear that as a developing country and also as a small supplier of services, it will have difficulty in offering commitments in a wide range of services. However, taking into account of its strategic export interests, it would be prepared to make some limited commitments in the areas of accountancy and computer services. Again, this offer will be conditional to Mauritius obtaining meaningful market access for its own service-suppliers in the market of other WTO members. Moreover, it will be an aberration for Mauritius to stay away from the ongoing negotiations in these two areas when it is a known fact that :
Mauritius is already exporting its accountancy services; and
Mauritius is building up to become a services-hub for the region.

Participation in the negotiations is the only possible way to influence the rules of the games to one's advantage and to ensure that one's interests in these specific sectors are promoted. Making an initial offer is the minimum entry-ticket for a WTO member to participate effectively in the negotiations. This entitles the participating members to exchange confidential information among themselves and to ask for amendments or additional concessions. A member who has not submitted any initial offer will not have access to these privileges except the right to attend the formal meetings in the multilateral setting.
Thank you, Sir.