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TISA: What Global Corporations learned from the Battle in Seattle

12 August 2014
The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) has recently burst into the headlines for all the wrong reasons. 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.

For governments who normally extoll the virtues of trade agreements to anybody who will listen, and who are responsible for more than two thirds of the world’s global trade in services, it is curious that we have heard so little. Until recently, a simple google search for TISA produced only a few hits.

All that has changed in the last few months.

Released in late April, PSI’s publication TISA Vs Public Services shows the 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. It will increase the number of migrants workers entering countries with limited rights and loosen 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 leaked the financial services chapter. 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 authorise potentially toxic insurance products and risk legal challenge if they adopt measures to prevent or respond to another crisis.”  

But for concerned citizens, the big question is why would our governments be negotiating such a slew of nasties. Why are they hiding it from us? And why is there not more noise being made? 

Part of the answer lies in understanding that a key objective of TISA 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 against the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 marked a high point of public discontent.

Proponents of the TISA are open 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 part of the answer lies in understanding who is pushing for the TISA. The US Coalition of Service Industries (CSI) have set up a team to promote the agreement 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: teamtisa.org/index.php/about-team-tisa/coalition-members).
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 increasingly about far more than 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. 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.
Public services are designed to ensure fundamental social and economic necessities are provided to the public affordably, universally and on the basis of need. They exist because markets will not produce these outcomes.
Trade agreements, by contrast, deliberately promote commercialisation and define goods and services in terms of their ability to be exploited for profit by global corporations and international service providers.
Treating public services as commodities for trade at best fundamentally misconceives public services. At worst it is a deliberate attempt to privilege the profits of the richest in the world over those who have the greatest need.
Even the most ardent supporters of trade agreements admit that 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.
Is there a democratic country in the world that would knowingly accept its government agreeing laws that so fundamentally shift power and wealth, bind future governments, bypass its domestic courts and restrict its own ability to provide for its citizens - entirely in secret?
The answer is clearly no.
And therein lies the answer to what global corporations have learned from the Battle in Seattle.
Original article written for French blog Ma Vérité sur by Daniel Bertossa, Director of Policy and Governance at Public Services International.

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