Deborah James: The proposed trade agreement TISA would prohibit governments from being able to regulate the service industry
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Last week in Geneva, trade representatives from countries with the top global economies met to negotiate the Trade in Services Agreement, also known as TISA. The U.S. and 28 member states of the European Union are leading the deal, and nearly 50 countries will be part of an eventual deal. Although little has been written about it in the mainstream press, critics say that TISA would be a major, quote, disaster for public services internationally.
With us to discuss this global trade deal is Deborah James. She’s the director of international programs for the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
Thanks for joining us, Deborah.
DEBORAH JAMES, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMS, CEPR: Thanks so much for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So you were involved in publishing a letter, together with 340 other organizations, which called for governments to abandon the Trade in Services Agreement talks. Can you please describe for us what TISA is? And how is it different from the current trade agreements already in place?
JAMES: Certainly. Well, TISA right now is a proposed trade in services agreement, which means that we have the chance to stop it from coming into existence. It is actually modeled on something called the Global Agreement on Trade in Services that is part of the World Trade Organization. It’s one of the many agreements that’s part of the WTO. It’s called the GATS. And that agreement limits in many ways the ability of governments to regulate, that is, for public–and if you’re talking about federal level, subfederal, state, local–to actually regulate and put some kind of protections around services sectors that governments have agreed to include in the GATS, in the General Agreement on Trade in Services.
And so this agreement would be a plurilateral agreement, as you said it would be, a number of countries, the United States and E.U. included, that would be agreeing voluntarily to sort of bind their services sectors to these disciplines. And the disciplines generally are about prohibiting the presence of foreign companies in those services sectors, as well as limiting the ability of state, local, and federal governments to regulate and therefore have public oversight in services in those sectors that governments agree to to submit to those findings.
And when we talk about services, it’s really important to understand this is a very big part of our economy. It’s sort of–we talk about services as anything you can’t drop on your foot. So it has to do with services that we maybe mostly think of as private, such as banking, financial–that includes accounting, you know, derivatives trade–to things like telecommunications, shipping, retail, all sorts of issues like that that are generally private services, as well as public services, including health care, education, water distribution, electricity distribution, postal. So, really, services is sort of, like, the way we live our lives.
And now we’re looking at a proposed trade agreement that would prohibit governments from being able to regulate it. And really, in many cases, if they put a service sector into the TISA, they would then be opening up to a lot of foreign presence in that sector. And that’s not something that the majority of people, if we look at consumers and farmers and environmental advocates or development advocates, that’s not the way, the direction that we want our governments to go.
DESVARIEUX: Okay, Deborah, can you just give me really quickly just a concrete example of how this would affect people? Like, you mentioned accounting, education, all those different sectors. Can you just give me an example of how this would affect a teacher, for example?
JAMES: Absolutely. So I’ll give you two specific ones that are really relevant to today’s problems that we have.
One of them is that the GATS-era rules on deregulation of the financial sector, which are part of the General Agreement on Trade in Services now in the WTO, as well as a special financial services agreement, those are some of the deregulatory rules that actually led to the financialization of the economy that had a big influence on spreading the global economic crisis when it started in the U.S. because of our housing crisis, spreading it around the world. So those are the types of regulations that–you know, we want to be able to regulate the financial sector. All governments are saying, yes, we should be able to regulate more of the financial sector. There’s all these innovative products coming online. And yet, if you have that sector subject to WTO disciplines, it doesn’t allow you to take new regulations as the global economy might shift and change, and you might realize, oh, wait, you know, we deregulated that sector, you know, ten years ago, but now we actually want to have more public oversight.
I’ll give you a second example, which is incredible, that the government of Bolivia, for example, has within its Constitution now, the people of Bolivia have a right to health care, and that is considered a state obligation. Well, Bolivia, in a previous neoliberal government, actually subjected hospital services to the WTO, it submitted them to the WTO, which means that it has to allow presence of foreign hospital services operators, hotel–excuse me–hospital operators in Bolivia. And they, you know, have a new government, they have a new constitution, and they said, this is a human right now, right to health care; we want to take this out of the WTO. But WTO members have the right to block a country from rescinding a sector from the agreement once it has subjected it to it. So the United States thus far, even though we have no commercial presence in this sector in Bolivia, has thus far not allowed Bolivia to claw back something so important as hospital services, to say, this is a national–you know, it’s a constitutional mandate, it’s absolutely a human right, and we need it in control of the state. They say no, you have to still allow us to have a foreign presence, because that’s what you agreed to many years ago in the WTO. And this is what we don’t want to have happen even further, as the proposed TISA would be including even more sectors and including even further deregulation for the participating countries.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Wow. A lot to unpack there.
Let’s continue this conversation in our part two discussion with Deborah James. We’ll be discussing lobbying, the interests behind TISA, and a lot more.
Well, thank you so much for joining us, Deborah.
JAMES: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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