Home

Thou shall not obfuscate

15 December 2005

If you can bear to, follow me to Annex C, Paragraph 7b of the latest General Agreement on Trade in Services draft text for the Hong Kong WTO ministerial. Here we learn that any group of member states can make a request to any other group for the latter to open their markets in certain services. (I know this is unconscionably dry, but bear with me). Those members "shall enter into plurilateral negotiations to consider such requests".

This has suddenly become the most contentious paragraph of the text, and has fuelled a toothy semantic debate on the meaning of the word "shall". Poor countries have gone so far as to draft an entirely new test, fearing that this "shall" is a sneaky way of the EU achieving its thinly veiled goal of carving open water and banking markets.

Alan Johnson, Britain's head of delegation, says he has consulted a dictionary. "Shall is the same as should,” he concludes, rather unusually.

One seasoned unionist reckons that the EU's protestations that the new GATS deal would still be voluntary are theologically unsound.

"As an atheist, I have trouble understanding Christians," he says. "But am I now to take it from the EU that the word 'shall' is nothing more than a suggestion? If so, is the fifth commandment to be rewritten: 'Not killing people is something you might like to consider.'"

Sign the petition: save our Freedom of Information

The UK government is running a secretive unit inside Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office that’s accused of ‘blacklisting’ journalists and hiding ‘sensitive’ information from the public. Experts say they’re breaking the law – and it’s an assault on our right to know what our government is doing.

We’re not going to let it stand. We’re launching a legal battle – but we also need a huge public outcry, showing that thousands back our call for transparency. Will you add your name?

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData