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.'"

Live discussion: Why is everyone taking the government to court?

There's a pandemic on – so why are openDemocracy, Foxglove and others challenging the British government's health contracts in court? Join us for the inside story on how we're going to extraordinary lengths to force the government to reveal what they're doing with public money and citizens' health records.

Join us for this free event on 4 March at 5pm UK time/12pm EST.

Hear from:

Cori Crider Lawyer, investigator and co-founder of Foxglove, a non-profit that seeks to make the use of technology fair for everyone

Caroline Molloy Editor ourNHS and openDemocracyUK

Chair: Mary Fitzgerald Editor-in-chief, openDemocracy

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