Public Services and the GATS
of public services is one of the most hotly debated issues surrounding the
GATS. There are two approaches to distinguish such services from any other
services: an institutional approach that focuses on the legal and
institutional conditions governing supply (e.g. ownership status, market
organisation), and a functional approach based on the policy objectives that
may be involved (e.g. distributional and quality-related considerations,
concepts of universal access). Given the wide range of institutional
arrangements that exist in different jurisdictions, with significant
variations over time, the former approach does not appear appropriate. The
services provided by government-owned facilities, whose costs are covered
directly by the State, may well be indistinguishable, for all practical
purposes, from the services provided by private commercial operators, whose
users (students, patients, passengers, etc.) are reimbursed.
This paper discusses the relevance of the GATS for different organisational settings — from government monopolies to regulated and/or subsidized private provision — that may be used by WTO Members to meet typical public service objectives. It turns out that virtually all forms of organisation can be accommodated within the framework of the Agreement. To fully exploit its opportunities and avoid unpleasant surprises, however, governments would need to thoroughly analyse the relevant provisions in the light of their own policy objectives.
Rolf Adlung — WTO
Manuscript date: July 2005
WTO, trade in services, public services
JEL classification numbers
F13, H40, H70back to top
This is a working paper, and hence it represents research in progress. This paper represents the opinions of the author, and is the product of professional research. It is not meant to represent the position or opinions of the WTO or its Members, nor the official position of any staff members. Any errors are the fault of the author. Copies of working papers can be requested from the divisional secretariat by writing to: Economic Research and Statistics Division, World Trade Organization, rue de Lausanne 154, CH 1211 Genève 21, Switzerland. Please request papers by number and title.
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