Deborah James: Transnational financial services interests are lobbying hard for the passage of this agreement and ways to push back on government regulation domestically
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to part two of our conversation with Deborah James.
Deborah is the international programs director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. And today we are discussing TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement.
So, Deborah, let’s pick it up from where we left off. Let’s talk about the lobbying firms and who’s really behind this agreement.
DEBORAH JAMES, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMS, CEPR: Absolutely. Well, this grows out of many, many years of lobbying of big transnational financial services interests, from the oil sector, telecommunications, that are grouped together in the United States in what’s called the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries and in Europe in what’s called the European Services Forum. And these groups actually, you know, poll their members and figure out what are ways that we can sort of push back on government regulation domestically. And then they have developed the trade agreement as the method by which to constrain that public oversight domestically and be able to get access to new markets overseas. So then they go to the trade representative–in the case of United States, the USTR–and they say, hey, why don’t you develop a new trade agreement that doesn’t really have very much to do with what we think of as trade but will allow us to push back on public oversight and get new market access to make more corporate profit? And that’s actually how this type of proposal gets developed.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Just to play devil’s advocate here, some people would argue that this is about free markets and giving the public a choice for services. So why should we even oppose something like TISA?
JAMES: Well, a government can at any point allow foreign corporations, for example, to come in and operate. For example, if you’re a small country that doesn’t have its own, say, cell phone service operator, you can say, hey, I want to take bids to see who will come in and, you know, provide that service. However, some years down the road you might want to change your mind, which we think of as part of choice, and therefore say, oh, we’re going to change the regulation or we’re going to say that you have to not only provide cell phone service for wealthy people but also, you know, landline service or cell phone service for poor people or people in a rural area.
And an agreement, once you bind your regulation to a so-called trade agreement, you have forever poured superglue onto those disciplines that actually prohibit you from being able to have a kind of public oversight over that services sector. And this is true again for the private services as well as for key public services like health care and education and postal delivery.
And so that’s why, you know, we were able to have such a tremendous outpouring of support from consumer organizations, from environmental groups who were upset about the lack of environmental oversight that would happen if many of these services sectors were bound to this proposed TISA, as well as, you know, all kinds of groups, including trade unions working in the services sector, Public Services International, a union which is the global union of private services sector workers, just a huge outpouring of support, even farmers and other groups that recognize that it’s important to have public oversight over these sectors and are not interested in having yet another aspect of their lives turned over to corporations for corporate and generally foreign profit.
DESVARIEUX: And that lack of public oversight is also something that could be detrimental to the public in terms of transparency. As a journalist you know–I would assume that you know, not having those regulators, we’re not going to have that type of information at the tip of our fingers. But the media has really not been covering this issue at all, similar to the TPP. Why do you think there has been this lack of media coverage when it comes to TISA?
JAMES: Well, one of the problems we’re facing with the proposed TISA is actually that it’s being negotiated much like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, on a plurilateral basis, which means we have even less access to information about it than we do fighting an expansion of the WTO. So these trade negotiators meet in secret. And there’s been very little public input. There’s very little oversight. And they just concluded a week of negotiations last week. We have almost no information about what actually happened. And this is part of the problem.
There has not been a comprehensive review of what–you know, how we should govern our services sector. Should it be put up for corporate profit? Or should it be governed in the public interest? That’s the kind of situation you would want to have in order to decide if you’re going to, you know, throw all of your disciplinary regulatory policies out the window to a plurilateral trade agreement. You want to say, no, let’s get the public input first. And that secrecy has just absolutely prevented that from happening, probably because we know that if the public knew about this agreement, they would say, hey, that doesn’t make any sense to me; why do I want to open up my water distribution in my county to a French corporation and bind it in a trade agreement where, you know, if we want to take it back, we have to pay them 20 years of potential profit into the future? It makes no sense.
It also has a very negative impacts, unfortunately, for many developing countries that are not even participating in the negotiations. And that’s because in the WTO right now they’re negotiating what’s called the DOHA Round, which is a big sort of give-and-take on a number of issues, including goods and agriculture and services. And services is one of the ones that is absolutely almost exclusive interest of transnational companies in developed countries. And so taking it out of the big give-and-take of the Doha Round will actually diminish developed countries’ interests in changing some of the rules in the global trading system to make it more fair for developing countries and allow developing countries to take advantage of trade for development. And so that is yet another, you know, pernicious aspect, even for countries that aren’t even participating.
DESVARIEUX: We certainly will keep on shedding light on this issue. Thanks so much for joining us, Deborah.
JAMES: Thank you so much.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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