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Friday, 10 November, 2000, 15:21 GMT
Campaigners target trade in services
Seattle protests blocked world trade talks
Protests blocked the world trade talks in Seattle
The wave of protests against globalisation continues to grow.

On Thursday, campaigners in the UK launched what amounts to a second front in the campaign against the extension of free trade in services.

This agreement will only benefit the multinational companies that dreamt it up. We intend to expose and oppose it

World Development Movement
More than one thousand people joined anti-globalisation journalist Naomi Klein and environmental activist George Monbiot at a rally in central London.

The campaign aims to stop the World Trade Organisation from extending the rules that already cover trade in goods to sectors like telecommunications, banking and utilities.

Last December, mass demonstrations in Seattle forced the cancellation of talks aimed at launching a new round of world trade talks.

Trade in services
business services
communication services
construction services
distribution services
financial services
tourism and travel
transport services
However, commitments made at the most recent round of trade negotiations - the so-called Uruguay Round - have mandated further negotiations on opening up the service sector and reducing subsidies in agriculture.

Negotiations to liberalise the services sector have been proceeding slowly, however, with a December deadline for submitting concrete proposals fast approaching.

The European Union, the world's largest exporter of services, has been pressing hardest for further liberalisation in this sector.

Expose and oppose

But the World Development Movement, which is leading the campaign, says that free trade in the service sector could have huge and negative implications for the provision of public services, especially in developing countries.

"This agreement will only benefit the multinational companies that dreamt it up. We intend to expose and oppose it," a WDM press release said.

They say that changes in the rules governing trade in services could open up sectors like health and education to private tendering.

And they are worried that in developing countries, utilities like water companies would be sold off to private bidders, raising the price to poor households.

The campaigners also say the process that determines the trade rules is secretive and undemocratic, and means countries will lose much of their power to regulate foreign multinationals.

Benefits of trade

The World Trade Organisation says that services is the fastest growing sector of world trade, and that consumers will benefit from the lower prices resulting from free trade.

It does accept that liberalising trade in services will in some ways lead to more interference in national laws.

"Because a large share of trade in services takes place within national boundaries, its requirements will from the beginning necessarily influence domestic laws and regulations," the WTO says.

And it admits that because the rules on services are largely untested, this "adds to the difficulty of assessing exactly what rights and obligations WTO members have assumed under the services package."

Although there has been a measure of agreeement on some areas, for example financial services and telecoms, the scope of services liberalisation has still not been determined.

If a serious global protest movement gets going, it could have a significant impact on the biggest remaining section of the trade agenda.

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