Topics handled by WTO committees and agreements
Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

Misunderstandings and scare stories:
Right to regulate

Proposals are posted on the WTO website.

In a Canadian National Post column under the heading "Trading Away the Public Interest" on 26 June 2000, Mr. Murray Dobbin claimed that negotiations under the GATS "may abolish regulation" designed to protect health standards and other public interests. Commenting on a recent tragedy involving polluted water supplies, he argued that although it might be hoped that the subsequent investigation would lead to the reestablishment of high standards for health protection and public service, the expansion of the GATS "could make returning to saner times all but impossible". "At stake are issues as diverse as how strict our standards are for hospitals ů and the treatment and testing of drinking water." 

Leaving aside the facts that neither Canada nor any other Government has made commitments on water distribution, that foreign suppliers in Canada would have to meet the same standards as Canadian companies, that the right to regulate and to introduce new regulations is explicitly guaranteed in the GATS, and that the GATS has no power to abolish regulation, it is not true that any GATS provision would make difficult the "reestablishment of high standards for health protection". The protection of health is explicitly recognized in the GATS as a policy concern of overriding importance. Article XIV contains a General Exception saying that "nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to prevent the adoption or enforcement by any Member of measures necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health." The same applies to safety. This means that the need to act to protect health or safety would entitle a Government to violate any other provision in the GATS, including its own market-access commitments.

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