Misconceptions about the GATS

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8.1 Sources of Criticism

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Civil society representatives have repeatedly voiced concerns about public policy implications of the GATS. Such concerns revolve, inter alia, around the Agreement’s perceived impact on governments’ ability to regulate socially important services and ensure equitable access across regions and population groups. It has been alleged that the concept of progressive liberalization, combined with the commercialization of some public services in individual countries, could result in subjecting core governmental activities to external (multilateral) disciplines. There have also been assertions that the Agreement contravenes basic notions of national sovereignty, requiring governments against their intention to liberalize access and/or to accept constraints on socially motivated subsidy schemes. While some of these claims may be dismissed as scare mongering, driven for example by income interests of sector incumbents, the complexity of the GATS and the absence, in potentially relevant areas, of authoritative legal interpretations may have added a sense of uncertainty.

In response, the WTO Secretariat has authored, or contributed to, several publications explaining the structure and functioning of the Agreement and, by the same token, debunking frequently traded myths. Relevant sources include a Special Study on Market Access: Unfinished Business, a brief booklet on GATS: Fact and Fiction, and a Joint Study with the WHO on WTO Agreements & Public Health.



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