20th Jun 2019

EU pressures developing countries for access to water services

NGOs and multi-national water utilities companies have drawn a line in the sand against the EU and the international services lobby’s efforts to pressure developing countries into opening their water distribution markets.

If the EU gets its way, in exchange for access to the water markets, developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) would receive long sought-after access to Western markets as part of the WTO Doha Development Round.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • A lot of politics surrounds water access (Photo: EUobserver)

"We are negotiating for better opportunities for EU industry", Anders Jennsen of DG Trade said Tuesday (15 March) at a symposium on foreign participation in water markets as part of the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) negotiations under way in the WTO.

It is unclear why the EU is pushing hard for market access especially as utilities present at the debate as well as the services industry lobby say they are not asking for access.

"We think it is in their own interest to do it", said Mr Jennsen pointing out that many developing countries already allow foreign participation in their water delivery services sector but they do not want it bound by an international agreement.

Agreeing to the EU's request would give stability for companies looking to become involved in developing markets, said Mr Jennsen. "It is a guarantee against sudden policy reversals", he said.

Unlikely coalition

But his views were countered by an unlikely combination of development NGOs and multi-national water utilities already operating in the developing world, saying that giving access to foreign companies bound by a multilateral agreement would not help developing countries.

"I don’t think opening up developing countries’ water services under GATS will achieve what needs to be done", to help poor regions gain access to drinking water, said Richard Aylard, head of corporate development and external affairs for RWE Thames Water, the German-owned utility that serves the London area.

"When we were analysing the agreement, we couldn’t find any real benefits for companies or developing countries. Water is a local issue but trade negotiations are handled by national governments. There is often a disconnect between the national level and local needs and applications", said Mr Aylard.

Development NGOs agreed with the view posed by Thames Water.

"It will not increase opportunities for development but will reduce development initiative on a national level", said Ziaul Hoque Mukta of ActionAid Bangladesh.

Roughly 5% of the world’s water is run by the private sector but 95% of that is by European companies.

Speaking on behalf of the WTO, Pierre Latrille said that although the EU had first opened the discussion on foreign participation in water distribution in developing countries three years ago, no country had made a commitment on what the EU had asked for.


But a thinly veiled threat lay among the remarks by the EU and services lobby.

Without the support of the EU’s proposal by developing countries, long sought-after concessions for agricultural market access for those countries into the Western world may not come.

"We can’t pressure Brazil or India into something they don’t want to do", said Mr Jennsen, but he later said, "What (the LDCs) are prepared to offer will need to be relative to what they are asking from us".

An underlying theme of Tuesday’s discussion was the EU’s unfair ability to manipulate developing countries, who fear losing trade concessions, developing countries into giving market access.

"If a government is dependent on aid from a government it is negotiating with, it’s not a level playing field", Ed Brown from Loughborough University in the UK said.

News in Brief

  1. Four sentenced to life for 2015 migrant truck deaths
  2. Johnson vs. Hunt to replace May as UK leader
  3. EU leaders take aim at Russia's role in Ukraine
  4. EUobserver appoints new interim editor-in-chief
  5. Ombudsman: Tusk's staff should record lobby meetings
  6. Tusk now 'more cautious' on top jobs decision at summit
  7. Mogherini: my replacement 'needs security experience'
  8. Irish PM: 'enormous hostility' to new Brexit extension


EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!", US president Donald Trump tweeted on Monday (20 May).

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. Additional summit over top EU jobs looms
  2. EU advisor roasted over Russian media interview
  3. EU must counter Kushner's so-called 'peace' plan
  4. Tusk wants quick deal on EU top jobs at Thursday summit
  5. EU keeps North Macedonia and Albania at arm's length
  6. What's going on in Moldova - and what next?
  7. EU officials prepare for US extravaganza on Palestine
  8. EU urges Swiss to move on talks or face sanction

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us