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TISA or the secret agreement

D 8 October 2014    


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The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) is becoming an issue for many people in Europe. Negotiated in secret in Geneva for almost two years by over 50 countries, including the European Union, USA, Japan, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Australia and South Korea, it has taken months of work from global researchers and a spectacular leak from Julian Assange’s Wikileaks to expose anything about its contents.

The governments involved normally proclaim the virtues of trade agreements out and loud, the same governments are responsible for more than two thirds of the world’s global trade in services, it is curious that they have kept this agreement in secret until recently, still a google search for TISA gives few results.

But things are changing since the debate on TTIP and CETA are making into mainstream news. A recent study published by Public Services International (PSI) shows that TISA will prevent failed privatisations from being brought back into public hands, restrict domestic laws and regulations such as worker safety, environmental regulations and consumer protections, and restrict regulatory authority in areas such as licensing of health care facilities, power plants, waste disposal facilities and university and school accreditation.

Another important aspect is the danger of an increase number of migrants workers entering countries with limited rights and downgraded protections on data security and the way the internet is regulated.

Astonishingly, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the TISA seeks to further deregulate the financial markets.

This was confirmed in June when Wikileaks published the financial services chapter. An Analysis by Professor Jane Kelsey from the Faculty of Law at University of Auckland in New Zealand shows that governments signing onto TISA will be “expected to lock in and extend their current levels of financial deregulation, lose the right to require data be held onshore, face pressure to authorize potentially toxic insurance products and risk legal challenge if they adopt measures to prevent or respond to another crisis.”

TISA has several objetives one of them is to extend some of the most controversial provisions of the 1994 General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the treaty created by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to extend the multilateral trading system to the service sector. Many of these provisions were strongly opposed at the time GATS was being negotiated and some of them were ultimately not included in GATS due to public pressure. The protests in Seattle marked a high point of public discontent and clash amongst different nations. Defenders of the TISA are outspoken about their frustrations with the slow process of services liberalisation under the Doha round. They see TISA as the way to further liberalise services.

Another objective is for the US Coalition of Service Industries (CSI) to conquest an hegemonic position in trade negotiations. They have created a group to promote TISA ( teamtisa.org/)/ This is supported by a big group of large corporate interests including Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, CHUBB, Deloitte, UPS, Google, Verizon, Walmart, Walt Disney, IBM and more (see full list here: www. teamtisa.org/index.php/about-team-tisa/coalition-members ), so this is an attempt of big service multinationals to further liberalise leaving China outside of the deal.

The analysis of the leaked financial services text from Wikileaks (wikileaks.org/tisa-financial/) shows that the following organisations are also supporting the TISA:
US Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, US Chamber of Commerce, American Insurance Association, VISA, Bloomberg Financial information Services.

The new wave of trade and investment agreements are becoming something more than just trade. They provide constitutional type powers that institutionalise the rights of investors and prohibit government actions in a bewildering array of areas only incidentally related to trade in those countries within the agreement. In other terms, the EU, the US and several of its closest allies will sign an pact of iron against any other foreign investor doing business inside the block. The dispute settlement procedures place the enforcement of these agreements outside domestic courts. Worryingly, they bind future governments who will find it hard to withdraw from these agreements without paying massive compensation.

In the case of public services, this is a tragedy because there is an inherent tension between public services and free trade agreements.

In TISA there are winners and losers. There is abundant evidence that the winners are usually the large powerful countries who are able to assert their power, multinational corporations who are best placed to exploit new access to markets and wealthy consumers who can afford expensive foreign imports. The losers tend to be workers who face job losses and downwards pressure on wages, users of public services and local small businesses who cannot compete with multinational corporations.

Against the background of big winners and losers, the secrecy surrounding the TISA negotiations is a scandal and very suspicious. It is time now for trade unions and the broader civil society to reject the corporate agenda and present a real alternative to their trade.

Pablo Sanchez, EPSU, August 2014

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