Imagine a world without libraries...
it could happen
Just imagine ...
- A world in which information is available only to those who can pay for
- A world from which public libraries have disappeared, replaced by companies,
who dispense information for a fee.
- A world in which municipalities have lost the right to provide programs
they think are most needed for their communities, including library services.
How could it happen ?
The World Trade Organization (WTO) will radically restructure the role
and powers of governments worldwide. The potential threat to public services,
like education, health care, social services, and library services, is enormous.
The WTO talks may have appeared to stall in Seattle, but the negotiations
What is the WTO?
- The World Trade Organization was established in 1995 to regulate global
- Made up of 134 countries from the developed and developing world, but steered
by the so-called "Quad" nations (U.S., Canada, Japan, European Union), who
often meet behind closed doors to make key decisions.
- Member states are bound by trade agreements and can be forced to comply
by a WTO settlement "court," a place where corporations can complain of and
be compensated for governments' "unfair trade practices."
- Backed heavily by multinational corporations, the WTO strives to abolish
the public sector and encourage privatization and competition.
- A WTO goal is to "provide transnational corporations with a cheap supply
of labour and natural resources ... guaranteeing corporate access to foreign
markets without requiring that the corporations respect countries' domestic
priorities."1 In other words, it awards corporations all of the rights
and none of the responsibilities of unfettered global access to markets.
What is the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)?
- GATS is the first ever set of multilateral, legally-enforceable rules covering
international trade in services. Anything that is not a tangible commodity,
but involves human activity toward meeting some human need, is considered
- These negotiations are proceeding because of the so-called "built-in agenda"
of the WTO; Canada agreed to the negotiations and timeline for GATS long before
the events of late 1999 in Seattle.
- At issue is the deregulation of all services across borders. The goal is
to commit each country to deregulate each service sector and provide national
treatment for foreign service-based companies, such as libraries, museums,
archives, educational institutions, health care and social service agencies.
- Education could be privatized. Subsidized health care could disappear.
So could libraries.
The Threat of Top-down versus Bottom-up
- The GATS already exists, but there are proposals to expand it from a "bottom-up"
agreement which allows member countries to list the sectors they want covered
in the agreement, to a "top-down" agreement, where all sectors will be included
unless a country specifically gets an exemption for them.
- To date, the Canadian government has made only vague promises to protect
education and health care, but there are no exemptions for these services,
for social services, ... or for libraries.
Good-bye to the Public Sector
The GATS is explicit in its goal of privatizing the last remaining vestiges
of the public sector. Our publicly-supported services, including libraries,
face the same threat of extinction under GATS that was predicted with the
Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) which was defeated by a ground
swell of public opposition around the world. The difference is that the GATS
already exists and is relatively unknown to the public, making it an easier
target for WTO negotiators.
A Threatening Scenario for Libraries
The following is a scenario that could easily happen under national treatment
guidelines of GATS:
An "information services" company could enter Canada, offering services similar
to those offered by Canadian libraries. Under the national treatment clause,
this company could claim the same government subsidies that libraries receive
(because they are the same kind of operation), and the government would be
forced to comply. In such a case, the subsidies would probably be discontinued
by the government so that similar claims could be avoided in the future. Discontinuing
funding to libraries would be the surest way for governments to protect themselves,
and libraries could be forced to generate income or close. If public libraries
are forced to close, or to operate on a break-even basis, the public would
have to buy their information from the "information companies" or from fee-charging
libraries. If a free flow of information is fundamental in a democratic society,
the very basis of our democratic system would be threatened by this scenario.
What can you do?
- First and foremost, voice your concerns. Write letters to your MP and MLA.
Tell them you are concerned about Canada's participation in these proceedings
and why, and demand that the government cease its involvement unless there
is more public consultation.
- Ask for an explicit and permanent exemption for libraries in GATS negotations.
- Don't be intimidated by the specialized language used by government and
- Stay informed on these issues and share your knowledge with others.
For more information, contact:
The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA)
Suite 150, 900 Howe Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6Z 2M4
to Globalization, GATS and the WTO