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What we shouldn't know

The EU and the US demand to be able to sell services as freely as possible worldwide, including in developing countries. This is happening in the WTO negotiations to extend the GATS agreement. Norway has been pushing in the same direction. But we shouldn't know anything about that.


: In 2002, Norway required 38 developing countries to open the borders to competition from Norwegian service companies. The Bondevik government eventually had to tell which countries Norway has made demands on – but kept secret what specific demands Norway has made to each country.

Among these developing countries are countries such as Angola, Bangladesh, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Ecuador, Gabon, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela. They were selected precisely because they have little chance of competing with Norwegian service companies in the areas that the Bondevik government would open for competition.

To prevent public debate

What was the reason why Norway demanded that Gabon, Paraguay and Kyrgyzstan open certain services for Norwegian competition? Of course, we should not know that, because it should not be public debate.

Organizations such as the Forum for Development and the Environment, the Development Fund and ATTAC have for years asked to know what Norway has demanded of other countries, and especially of developing countries. It has been rejected every single time – with the sole reason that this is not done in the WTO, and moreover it would weaken Norwegian negotiating positions.

Representatives from SV have several times raised the Norwegian GATS requirements in the Storting's Question Time. Each time, the answer has been evasive. SV has therefore on several occasions proposed that Norway should withdraw all its GATS requirements towards developing countries. Such proposals have always been rejected by the parliamentary majority – also by a unanimous Labor Party group.

To South Africa to know

I asked myself in Ny Tid in July 2002: "The United States, Australia and New Zealand have recently been pushing for more effective education under GATS. Is Norway under that pressure? Has the government, on behalf of Norway, submitted such demands by the deadline of 30 June? We may find out when it is too late to do anything about it. ”

In October 2003, we were suddenly told – but not by our own government – that Norway had demanded that South Africa open up its higher education and adult education to competition from Norway. We found out because an upset South African Minister of Education took it up in public at a meeting in Bergen.

Thus, it became a case in the Norwegian media – and an embarrassing case for the Bondevik government. SV had to be in government to get the go-ahead to withdraw this demand to South Africa – and to eight other developing countries. Fortunately, it was not too late to do something about it.

Not secret for everyone

However, the concrete requirements of poor countries were not secret to everyone. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian requirements were prepared in meetings with "30 industry associations, interest groups and other organizations within the business and working life". No one else knew.

The government made demands on other countries without the Storting discussing them, without any public debate on what demands we should make. Then there was something else about the business world, especially the parts of business that are ours “Offensive interests” .

"In a democracy, you do not need everyone to be in the picture at all times" . Who fits "in the picture" when it comes to GATS – it decides the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It amputated democracy

This is how an then-secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Elsbeth Trondstad, had to understand after a startling interview in the Nation on 19 November 2002. There, the journalist, Thomas Vermes, wanted to know why the Bondevik government was less open than the EU about what happened in the GATS proceedings.

When asked if you need to be a director of Statoil to know something, the answer was to understand: “We have set it up in such a way that not only companies, but also industry organizations are informed. (…) The important thing for us is that we have contact with the parties affected in Norway. ”

And when asked if there were other interested parties in a democracy, the answer was even clearer: "In the name of democracy, we have a very open line to companies. In a democracy, you do not need everyone to be in the picture at all times. "

Aleine against rich lands

At the annual globalization conference in Oslo in November 2002, the same secretary of state made clear what Norway stood for in the GATS negotiations: - We fight for our interests, then others get to fight for theirs. Trade negotiations cannot take place in any other way. As the end result is ever-improving market access for all, we all benefit from what goes on.

But in the GATS negotiations, it is the case that in reality every poor country stands alone against a bloc of rich people. When Norway wants free rein for Telenor in Bangladesh, we are at the same time fighting for the interests of all telecommunications groups that are tempted by the telecommunications market in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is completely alone in that tug of war. According to the GATS rules, a country that is tempted – or forced – to open up the telecommunications sector to competition must give all foreign companies equal market access.

Therefore, when Norway wanted to enter the market for higher education in South Africa and in eight other developing countries, we were at the same time the handlers for the US who wanted to enter the same markets. South Africa couldn't just get rid of BI.

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