WikiLeaks confirm fears over Trade In Services Agreement corporate take-over

June 14, 2015

WikiLeaks released 17 secret documents from the Trade In Service Agreement (TISA) negotiations on June 3. The documents have confirmed the fears of campaigners around the world that TISA is designed to benefit corporations at the expense of workers and the general public.

TISA is being negotiated between the US, European Union, Australia, Canada, Chile, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Taiwan, Uruguay, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Turkey, Pakistan and Paraguay. These countries make up about two-thirds of global GDP.

The secretive talks began in 2012 when a group of countries — giving themselves the Orwellian name of “Really Good Friends of Services” — became unhappy with negotiations in the World Trade Organisation, in which poorer countries were demanding more equality and a focus on development and public interest.

Corporate wish list

Our World Is Not For Sale (OWINFS) said on June 3: “The TISA is exposed as a developed countries’ corporate wish lists for services which seeks to bypass resistance from the global South to this agenda inside the WTO, and to secure an agreement on services without confronting the continued inequities on agriculture, intellectual property, cotton subsidies, and many other issues.”

TISA aims to liberalise services industries, including transport, telecommunications and finances. Services make up a large part of the economies of the negotiating countries, even the poorer ones — nearly 80% in the US and EU and 53% in Pakistan.

This leak follows WikiLeaks' release of the TISA Financial Services Annex in June last year, and the December leak of cross-border data flows, technology transfer, and net neutrality documents.

The cover page of the financial services document highlighted the extraordinary lengths that the parties would take to ensure secrecy. It said it should only be declassified “five years from entry into force of the TISA agreement or, if no agreement enters into force, five years from the close of the negotiations”.

Only Switzerland has been publishing its contributions to the negotiations.

This would leave the public unaware of the provisions in the agreement even as they were being implemented.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said on June 4: “It’s a dark day for democracy when we are dependent on leaks like this for the general public to be informed of the radical restructuring of regulatory frameworks that our governments are proposing.”

Deborah James of OWINFS said: “The secrecy charade has collapsed. TISA members trying to keep their publics in the dark as to the negative implications of the corporate TISA for financial stability, public safety, and elected officials’ democratic regulatory jurisdiction have been exposed to the light of day, in the largest leak of secret trade negotiations texts in history.”

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) general secretary Sharan Burrow said on June 5: “Trade deals being done behind closed doors are setting up working people to lose out and aiming to concentrate yet more power and wealth in the hands of multinational corporations, at the expense of the common good.

“With big majorities of people in ITUC Global Poll results showing deep concern over the influence of major corporations, governments need to turn their attention to building a trading system that works for the common good.”

'Competitive neutrality'

A particular concern revealed by the leaks is so-called “competitive neutrality”. This means that government-provided services could be deemed unfair trading practice if they disadvantage a private provider.

Burrow said: “Governments are planning to grant market access and national treatment to foreign service providers and operators in many service fields including telecommunications, transportation, delivery and various professional services such as architecture, engineering, medical, auditing, and legal.”

A large part of the leaked documents deal with the aviation, maritime and other transport industries. International Transport Federation president Paddy Crumlin said on June 3: “This text would supercharge the most powerful companies in the transport industry, giving them preferential treatment.

“What’s missing from this equation is any value at all for workers and citizens. It creates serious barriers for any state wanting to invest in, manage and operate its national infrastructure or — crucially — to defend decent work and decent terms and conditions across transport.”

The ITF lists many concerns it has with TISA in a statement, including the opening up offshore energy services which raises potential sustainability and environmental concerns, the undermining of social and safety standards, transport industries dominated by global giants and the breaking of unions.

Crumlin said: “Such ideologically-driven deregulation is not about increasing efficiency. The charade of moving to more open competition offers various ways to give the global majors more clout over newer global entrants. But global economic regulators cannot afford to treat citizens — transport workers, public sector workers — or any of the end-consumers of services simply as another component in the value chain.

“TISA must incorporate an enforceable and binding labour and sustainability chapter. It must not be used as an instrument to further deregulate transport sectors in a race to the bottom on terms and conditions of employment.”

Public services

TISA would also affect public services. A June 2 Pubic Services International statement said: “The TISA will restrict a government’s right to regulate stronger standards in the public’s interest. For example, it will affect environmental regulations, licensing of health facilities and laboratories, waste disposal centres, power plants, school and university accreditation and broadcast licenses. The proposed deal will also restrict a government’s ability to regulate key sectors including financial, energy, telecommunications and cross-border data flows.

“The TISA will specifically limit the ability of governments to regulate the financial services industry at exactly the time when the global economy is still recovering from a crisis caused by financial deregulation.”

Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary said: “The irony of the text containing repeated references to transparency, and an entire annex on transparency requiring governments to provide information useful to business, being negotiated in secret from the population exposes in whose interests these agreements are being made.”

A September 2014 report by Pubic Services International summed up the complicity of governments and corporations in these negotiations. In its conclusion it describes the Coalition of Services Industries 2012 summit in which “Ministers of trade sat on a panel moderated by a FedEx executive, supporting all the features of TISA that corporate lobbyists had asked for…

“The New Zealand ambassador actually thanked US business for their efforts in getting negotiations going. The US ambassador stated there was such strong consensus among the trade negotiators present at this conference of corporate lobbyists that they should just retire to the bar and sign the agreement.

“Mexican ambassador, Fernando de Mateo, concluded by saying: ‘The real fight is often in our own capitals, not Geneva, because we need to have our regulators on board in order to move quickly. The business community can help by talking to them.’”

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