Rewriting the regulations: how the World Trade Organisation could accelerate privatisation in health-care systems
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The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is drawing up regulatory proposals which could force governments to open up their public services to foreign Investors and markets. As part of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) negotiations, the WTO working party on reform of domestic regulation is developing a regulatory reform agenda which could mark a new era of compulsion in international trade law. Article VI.4 of the GATS is being strengthened with the aim of requiring member states to show that they are employing least trade-restrictive policies. The legal tests under consideration would outlaw the use of non-market mechanisms such as cross-subsidisation, universal risk pooling, solidarity, and public accountability in the design, funding, and delivery of public services as being anti-competitive and restrictive to trade. The domestic policies of national governments will be subject to WTO rules, and if declared illegal, could lead to trade sanctions under the WTO disputes panel process. The USA and European Union, with the backing of their own multinational corporations, believe that these new powers will advantage their own economies. Health-care professionals and public-health activists must ensure that this secretive regulatory reform process is opened up for public debate.
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