As indicated by my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, in her address to the National Forum on Europe, on 4 March 2004, the multilateral trade negotiations currently under way in the area of trade in services are considered in the context of the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services, otherwise known as the GATS negotiations.
Ireland's and the Union's objectives in the services negotiations are to seek better access for European service providers in third country markets and to secure a more transparent and predictable regulatory environment for services. The formal requests submitted by the EU to our WTO partners do not seek to dismantle public services nor to privatise state owned companies. No requests are being made on health services or audio-visual services to any country by the EU. In relation to education, only the US has received a request from the EU, limited to privately funded higher education. On environmental services, EU requests do not touch on the issue of access to water resources.
As regards the initial offer made by the EU, some WTO partners have requested that the EU open its services markets to third country providers beyond that committed under the Uruguay round. The European Union has made no offer to them in the areas of education, health or social services. GATS negotiations are about opening up trade, not about deregulating public services. These are regulated for very good reasons, be it to uphold, for example, safety standards or quality of services. Governments across the full membership of the WTO remain free to set levels of quality, safety, price and other objectives they see fit. The EU has no intention to promote or request privatisation or the dismantling of public services in any sector in the GATS or in any country. The GATS expressly provides that all WTO members can legitimately regulate economic and non-economic sectors within their territory to guarantee the achievement of public objectives.