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Better Telenor than Bangladesh?

Full free trade with all services – is it a goal for a red-green government? The SV and the Center Party say no, the Labor Party well.


"What is good for Telenor and Statoil is good for the world – and at least for Norway."

So far, this has been Norway's line in the GATS negotiations, the negotiations on more free trade in services.

The Center Party and the SV want any red-green government to withdraw all requirements that Norway has set for poor countries to open important service areas for foreign competition. It is unclear whether the Labor Party agrees.

The party's industrial policy spokesman, Olav Akselsen, categorically rejects that the party will make such demands. Jens Stoltenberg is more obscure.

The parliament does not know, but ...

The program of the Labor Party states that the party wants to "National authorities are not forced to privatize public welfare goods, for example in the sectors of education, health, energy and water supply, and that Norway does not make such demands on poor countries".

Jens Stoltenberg writes in the Nation (August 23) that if the Bondevik government has made such demands, claims can be deducted if the Labor Party comes into government. But at the same time he writes that "The Storting is not aware of whether the government has actually made such demands" .

Everyone who wants to know, knows

At “The Storting is not familiar with…” is both right and wrong. It is correct – and strongly criticized – that the government has not wanted to publish what demands Norway has made. The government has only told on which areas Norway has made demands. Still, it is not difficult to guess what the requirements are when you know that GATS is about increasing free trade in services.

However, leaks were necessary for us – in black and white – to know what Norway demands of poor countries in the GATS negotiations.

Thomas Vermes in the Nation was first out, while Helene Bank of the Ignis Foundation put the leaks into a broader context in a report that can be retrieved from the website or from

Requirements for 38 poor countries

It turns out that Norway has required 38 developing countries to open the borders to competition from Norwegian service companies. 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. The 38 are obviously selected because Norwegian service companies can win market shares with them in the areas where the government believes we have so-called “Offensive interests”.

Our "offensive interests"

In March 2001, Stoltenberg's own government identified six areas in which Norway has so-called “Offensive interests” , and where it – within GATS – wanted access to the markets in other countries. The six areas were shipping, energy services, telecommunications, so-called professional services (especially architectural, engineering and computer services), financial services (banking and insurance) and air transport.

In the summer of 2002, the Bondevik government expanded the list of two new areas, environmental services and educational services. Together with the energy services, these are two of the most sensitive and contentious areas in the GATS context. But energy services are also one of the areas where the AP program now does not want Norway to impose any requirements. Does energy also mean oil and gas?

Word Clover on Privatization?

In the debate ahead – also within a possible new government – we risk word-splitting about what the Labor Party is really going against in terms of GATS demands. The Labor Party has a program party, is "That national authorities are not forced to privatize public welfare benefits".

Now it is not the case that the GATS regulations in themselves force governments to privatize public services, nor to subject them to competition. But the GATS agreement requires constant negotiations to open domestic markets for competition from outside. Never about to close them. It is negotiated to open private service provision for competition, and it is negotiated to open public service provision for competition.

Formally, each country is free to decide whether to open a service sector to foreign competition. But if a sector is opened, it is open to the future.

LO no to Norwegian GATS requirements

The LO Congress in May 2005 adopted this resolution on the GATS negotiations: "The government must publish all claims and counterclaims in the GATS negotiations. It is not acceptable that important choices in the development of society should be tied up through secret, international negotiations. Norway must withdraw all demands from developing countries for the liberalization of services. It must be up to the developing countries themselves, without pressure from rich countries, whether they want to liberalize or not. Norway must work to ensure that important welfare areas such as education, health, water and energy supply are excluded from the GATS agreement. ”

International campaign

A number of international organizations (currently 198) have joined forces for a call, "Stop the GATS power game against the citizens of the world" , which sets requirements in the same direction ( Important parts of the international trade union movement have supported the call together with aid and solidarity organizations. The call indicates that there is now strong pressure on 32 LDC countries (among the world's poorest in the UN's view) and 40 other developing countries to open their service industries to full competition from abroad.

Poor countries are pressed

This pressure is applied in many ways. Poor countries are told – in very clear terms – that if they want to achieve anything in other areas during the current WTO negotiations, they must give the US and the EU market access in the field of services.

Western service groups have the most to gain from open international competition, and

it is the EU and the US that can make demands with force behind. There are those who can say that if you want to sell more food and textiles to us, you have to let in our banks, our telecommunications companies, our water companies.

For poor countries, short-term benefits can count more than what is most fateful about GATS: the fact that a country that has opened up a service industry to foreign competition can never reverse such a decision – as long as the country is a member of the WTO.

Norway is contributing to the pressure

Facing developing countries, Norway is the strong one. Free competition has never been a battle on equal terms between rich and poor.

It does not make it better for the Norwegian claims to fall into the pattern of demands that the EU and the US have established.

Apart from health and education, the EU will open all forms of service to full international competition worldwide. The United States will also enter the education markets. And get support from Norway.

Moreover, in GATS, every poor country stands alone against a block of rich. When Norway wants free blows for Telenor in Bangladesh, we also fight for the interests of all telecommunications groups that are tempted by the telecommunications market in Bangladesh. Bangladesh stands alone in that tug of war.

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