Global Trade Talks Raise Worries


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Global Trade Talks Raise Worries

From: Miles Townes

Date: 3/31/2003

Time: 1:57:48 PM

Remote Name:


From NABCA News

1. Global Trade Talks Raise Worries


AP Economics Writer

Fri Mar 28

WASHINGTON – The desire of corporate America to dismantle global trade barriers in service industries such as banking and telecommunications could run into major opposition from an unlikely source — state and city governments.

Local officials are starting to raise concerns that the Bush administration will negotiate away their flexibility to regulate a wide swath of service providers from banks and lawyers to the local water and sewer companies.

Those worries have been fueled by a massive 400-page document that the office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick mailed out to state government officials in January providing them with a summary of the requests various countries were making of the United States in the trade liberalization negotiations.

That document, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, summarized for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia the types of laws and regulations that would have to be changed to meet the requests being put forward by other nations involved in the trade negotiations.

Those negotiations are part of a new round of global trade talks being conducted by the 144 member countries in the World Trade Organization (news – web sites) that were launched in November 2001 in Doha, Qatar.

The various requests seek to remove a number of special restrictions that now apply to foreigners in such areas as the ownership of banks, insurance companies and various utilities including telephone companies and firms supplying water and sewer services.

Many developing countries are seeking to make it easier for their residents to come to the United States to work in a variety of regulated fields from architecture to medicine, work that is now barred in many cases by state licensing requirements.

All of these requests will be subject to lengthy negotiations in coming months in Geneva, Switzerland, where the trade talks are continuing at WTO headquarters. While the talks are not scheduled to wrap up until Jan. 1, 2005, critics charge that the Bush administration has failed to keep state and local government officials informed about the progress of the talks.

“This really represents an egregious attack on democracy that the basic regulatory policies of the 50 states could be undone by secret negotiations in Geneva,” said Lori Wallach, director of advocacy group Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Some state officials, alarmed at what they saw in the summary document, wrote this week to Zoellick, requesting greater consultation going forward.

“The negotiations are delving into dozens of areas that are the charge of state and local governments, like water, energy, insurance, professional services, alcohol distribution and more, yet state and local officials are not being consulted,” complained State Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison, Wis., one of six members of the Wisconsin legislature to write Zoellick this week seeking greater consultation between U.S. negotiators and state officials.

Louisiana State Rep. Weston Broome, who chairs the economic committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures, wrote Zoellick earlier this month after reading published reports based on a leaked document providing details of the EU’s opening negotiating requests. Those included a proposal to eliminate laws used in 16 states granting them exclusive rights to sell packaged liquor.

Administration officials said the concerns being raised at the state level are unjustified and many of the worries of state officials would be put to rest on Monday, when Zoellick will unveil the administration’s opening offer for lowering trade barriers. Officials said the administration will include none of the controversial demands that have most worried state officials.

Zoellick spokesman Richard Mills said the EU request on alcohol will not be included and he noted that Zoellick has already gone on record as saying the administration will not use the trade talks to deregulate or privatize current services such as supplying electricity or water that are offered by many local governments.

“Trade agreements are not the appropriate vehicle to pursue privatization of our own public services in the United States,” Zoellick said in a letter last year to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

To the charge that the administration has not done enough to keep state governments informed on the negotiations, Mills pointed to the 400-page document mailed out in January.

But critics say the complexity of that document, especially for state government officials who have little knowledge of international trade negotiations, underscored their concerns.

“There is almost no consultation going on in our state even though these negotiations could have a major impact on us,” Pocan said.

Last changed: March 31, 2003

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