Canadian postal services and other public services face new threat at the World Trade Organization

January 28, 2004

OTTAWA--Canada's public postal system is under threat at the WTO by a proposed expansion of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which is being promoted by the world's largest courier companies.

Following the setback to planned negotiations on competition policy and investment suffered at last year's WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, these companies are seeking to gain access to new markets through the expanded use of so-called "pro-competitive" rules in the GATS.

"These rules would undermine Canada's public postal system. They would threaten public service monopolies and jeopardize accountable, democratic regulation in whatever service sector they were applied." said Jim Grieshaber-Otto, one of the study's authors.

So-called "pro-competitive" rules are derived from the 1997 GATS Telecommunications Reference Paper. They refer to a package of legal restrictions that affect how governments make laws; regulate public monopolies and newly-privatized entities; ensure the delivery of universally-supplied services; and what conditions governments can set when they grant private corporations access to broadcasting frequencies, public infrastructure and other scarce public resources. In the GATS negotiations, similar rules have been proposed for energy, transportation, express delivery and postal services, water, environmental services, and many other essential service sectors.

Return to Sender, written by Jim Grieshaber-Otto and Scott Sinclair and published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is the first critical analysis of the impacts on public services and public interest regulation of the Telecommunications Reference Paper approach. The book focuses on the impact that the application of "pro-competitive" regulation would have on postal services (esp. Canada's public postal system, and the international regulation of postal services by the United Nation's Universal Postal Union). It also examines the recent experience with "pro-competitive" rules in the U.S. telecommunications sector, and considers the potential impacts of similar rules in other service sectors.

"Large transnational corporations would be the principal beneficiaries of such unbalanced rules. Their gain would come chiefly at the expense of public service providers, and the citizens they serve, around the world," said Sinclair, a senior researcher at the CCPA.