Negotiations are underway at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that seriously threaten Canadas health care system. The United States and the European Union want to expand the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) to apply to all services, including health care.
Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew has said 1 Canada wont protect health care by exempting it from any trade deals. This represents a dangerous retreat from Canadas historic position.
Medicare on the line
If the General Agreement on Trade in Services covered health care, this is what wed see.
- Market medicine - Foreign, for-profit hospitals would have the right to set up in Canada. The GATS guarantees investment rights to foreign corporations, including American HMOs. The U.S. HMO system is to bad, 43 million citizens have no coverage at all.
- Public funds hijacked for private profit - Government spending on health care could not “discriminate” between public and for-profit health service providers.
- Communities lose - No requirements could be made for foreign corporations for local hiring, management or shares in ownership.
- Services without borders - Corporations would be free to bring in workers to staff facilities in Canada or move work offshore. As well, theyd be free to transfer patients into and out of the country and deliver services across borders using tele-medicine.
- Corporate standards - The WTO would review requirements for health professionals and health facilities to ensure they were not “more burdensome than necessary to achieve the quality of the service.”
- Deregulation - According to the WTO, “there is hardly any measure governing the organization of the sector… that would not affect, directly or indirectly, access 2 for foreign corporations, and so potentially be a violation of the GATS. For example, confidentiality requirements for patient records could be judged “excessive” and an unacceptable barrier to trade in patient data.
Public services on the line
The WTO negotiations will take place in an atmosphere profoundly hostile to public services. Promoting increased privatization, the WTO says: “the picture seems to be gradually brightening over time.” It goes on to ask: “How can WTO Members ensure that ongoing reforms in national health systems are mutually supportive and, whenever relevant, market-based?” In other words, how can we reap profits from illness and death.
Health workers on the line
The wages of health care workers are under fire. The WTO says the biggest boost to freer trade is through opening up services jobs to foreign workers: “(T)he most significant benefits [are from] staffing with more skilled, more efficient and/or less costly personnel than might be available on the domestic labour market.” Translation - exploiting migrant labour to undercut Canadian salaries or moving work offshore!
We can stop this
We can protect public health care if we take action today. By mobilizing Canadians from coast to coast and joining with allies around the world, we managed to stop the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) dead in its tracks.
Now governments and corporations are trying to achieve the same ends at the WTO.
Weve stopped them once and we can do it again. The time for action is now.
- Attend one of the public events in your community.
- Ask for information at the public library.
- Check CUPEs web site and link to other groups opposed to a new trade deal.
- Talk to your co-workers, neighbours and friends.
- Mail a postcard.
- Sign a petition - or have your local start one.
- Write a letter to your local paper - or your locals newsletter.
- Declare your workplace a GATS-free zone.
- Help mobilize public opposition.
- Contact your provincial elected representative.
- Ask your municipal council to adopt a resolution opposing any new deals at the WTO.
Call, write or fax your Member of Parliament and Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew. Tell them youre opposed to any new deals at the WTO and ask what theyre doing to protect public services from hostile trade deals.
For the name and phone number of your MP, call 1 800 267 7360. Or you can fax your MP at no cost through CUPEs web site. Register your views today.
For more information on the WTO and the fight against it, visit the WTO Caravan web site.
1 “B.C. worries trade talks will imperil health care” October 7, 1999, Globe and Mail.
2 The above WTO quotations are from the WTO Secretariats Background Note on Health and Social Services, available at www.wto.org/wto/services/w65.htm