TiSA Agreement Leaks Show Corporations Pushing Privatization of Public Services

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For one thing, the leaks show prohibitions on requiring foreign companies to employ local workers, says Deborah James

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries in Baltimore.

WikiLeaks has released 3 chapters of the highly secretive Trade in Services Agreement that is currently being negotiated among 50 different countries. But as usual, the big players are the EU and the US, that are dominating the talks. This is not a light deal, the Trade and Services Agreement is also known as TiSA. It represents two thirds of the world’s GDP and is supposed to deregulate all kinds of services, including telecommunications, shipping, air sea transport, energy mining, and financial services. There are too many to mention all of them here. But the WikiLeaks files released last week also show that the European Union is pushing negotiators to complete the agreement before the next US president takes office in January. Opponents of this agreement have long argued that TiSA would significantly undermine democracy and economic development for less developed countries.

Joining us now to take a closer look at the TiSA leaks is Deborah James. Deborah is the Director of International Programs at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. She’s the coordinator of the global network, Our World is Not for Sale.

Thanks for joining us Deborah.

DEBORAH JAMES: Thanks so much for having me.

PERIES: So Deborah last time the Real News was dealing with trade agreement we were celebrating the defeat of T-TIP because they stopped negotiating it. Now they’re discussing TiSA. What is TiSA and is this agreement, if it goes through as planned, what would that do to services and the economies in this agreement?

JAMES: Well the TiSA is a trade agreement that was promoted by a group of countries, 50 countries that actually call themselves the really good friends of services. They started in early 2013 and it’s actually promoted by the major technology big data financial services and logistics corporations in the United States as well as Europe. Corporations like IBM, Google, Microsoft, Chase Bank, these are some of the institutions whose proposals have formed the basis of the TiSA. And their idea is to have binding rules that prevent governments from being able to regulate the services that they provide around the world and to actually bind governments in a treaty to constrain their ability to regulate in the public interests. So now we’ve had 20 rounds of these negotiations. They’ve all been held in secret in Geneva. There’s a few countries that have published some proposals such as Norway, the EU. The United States has not published any of its proposals for the TiSA nor has it published its officer.

PERIES: So what does this latest WikiLeaks reveal that we didn’t know about the TiSA agreements?

JAMES: Well a couple of things. This is the first time that any of the demands for specific deregulation and locking in privatization have been published. So the way the TiSA is negotiated, there are core disciplines on all services sectors and then there are specific annexes that deal with government functions like government procurement as well as systemic issues like financial services and logistics, and then there’s something called the schedule of commitments and in that schedule countries negotiate which services they are going to bind to the agreement and which services they are saying that they want to keep out of the agreement.

So for example, Europe has said for a long time that there’s going to be no public services in the TiSA. That public services are going to be protected. However, the leak that WikiLeaks published on Friday shows that the EU is actually making demands on developing countries for public services and this includes things like sewage and sanitation treatment and other environmental services, telecommunications, which in some countries is public and in some countries is private and even things like postal services and we’re talking about demands on countries like Costa Rica and Panama, and Peru, and Pakistan, and Mauritius, and Turkey, and Chile. So these are demands on developing countries that they open up to allow European private foreign corporate operators in something as a essential to the social network of the country as the postal system.

So this was quite explosive. I think from the point of view of contradicting what Europe has been saying about protecting public services and it really shows that they’re not really acting according to their mandate from the European parliament and it shows that they really do want to it get out. Both to lock in the deregulation of the private services like financial as well as to pressure countries to open up sectors to allow foreign operators in those sectors. As well WikiLeaks published updated texts on localization issues and financial services.

PERIES: So give us a sense of why developing nations would even sign onto this given that their local services are being handed over to multinationals?

JAMES: Well it’s interesting because the proponents of the agreement have a big list of reasons why they think it’s good for developing countries. They say that it will bring new technology to your country by allowing the foreign more advanced operators to provide services. They say that the foreign companies will then require local inputs so there will be forward and backward linkages in their economy. They say that they will hire local people so they say that there will be job creation, they say that will hire local managers so they’ll be skills building.

The interesting thing, is that every single one of those mechanisms that I just mentioned, the TiSA localization text that WikiLeaks released on Friday, actually prohibits countries from requiring any of those mechanisms. So countries are not allowed to require technology transfer for a foreign company to be operating. They’re not allowed to require local inputs. They would not be allowed to require the hiring of local people, promoting jobs, and they would not be allowed to require the hiring of local managers. Therefore, the very mechanisms by which the proponents of the TiSA say that developing countries would benefit are actually prohibited in the agreement itself which flies in the face of obviously what the proponents’ arguments have been.

In addition, the dangers of something in locking in the financial services deregulation, really is a global danger for everybody. I mean think about Sharmini, what countries have been saying since the global financial crisis, right? We need to have more regulation of banks, we need to have a separation – a firewall between creditors deposits and the speculative investments that the bank makes to try to make even more money. We need to regulate too big to fail banks and make them shrink. We need to be able to ban risky products in the future like derivatives and other toxic financial products. We need, countries need to be able to use capital controls for example.

Well again all of these things, the WikiLeaks revelations showed on Friday are prescribed in the TiSA. The TiSA financial services annex that was released actually would prevent countries that are signatories to the TiSA which is all developed countries and smattering of developing countries, it would prevent them from being able to use any of those measures. So you can’t actually limit the size of a service operator. You can’t actually limit the size of the bank if you sign on to the TISA. A country would not be able to band risky financial products. Even future products that don’t exist yet, countries would automatically have to allow whatever product they want in the future without being able to say well you know our consumer financial protection bureau thinks that this is too risky and damaging and has no net benefit for financial stability in the future.

You know all of these things and so it’s amazing again the double speak of the proponents of the TiSA will say well services are a big part of the economy so you should have a trade agreement and we say well wait a second, even the idea that we should trade in a service doesn’t necessarily mean that we should trade in the service according to the rules and the proposals of the multinational service corporations. Governments exist in order to mediate in between these different influences. That’s why we have regulation. You know you have consumers input and regulators experts input, you have technical input, you have the businesses, you have the workers, and they sort of look and say what would be the best outcome here for a regulation that would guarantee financial stability and also rights for consumers to have their financial data protected and also the ability of the banks to survive in the market place and offer their services and then you make a regulation accordingly.

So what we don’t want is this very, very anti-democratic method where corporations have used the vehicle of a trade agreement which are negotiated in secret and they say oh well its proprietary. We can’t let this come out into the light of day. And yet they’re usurping all of the domestic policy making processes of our entire democracy and then saying well we need to be behave according to these rules that the corporations have come up with that these 50 countries have negotiated amongst themselves in secret.

I just have to say thank god we have WikiLeaks to release this information into the light of day and the expertise of the members of our network, The World is Not for Sale, that has analyzed these very technical, very difficult to understand proposals and published WikiLeaks.org/TiSA the analysis that it can explain to a normal person why this is such a dangerous pernicious proposal that they are trying to finalize. Literally today Sharmini they are having chief negotiators meeting in Washington, yesterday and today they’re having another round. It will be the 21st round of negotiations. Next month in November in Geneva and they’re trying to finish this deal with a ministers meeting, the 5th and 6th of December in Geneva and we have got to stop it.

PERIES: Deborah, now Green Peace was very effective when it came to fighting T-TIP and stopping the negotiations. What can people be doing, getting to know of course what’s at stake here and learning more about the deal but what can they do to fight back what’s going on here?

JAMES: Certainly people can learn more about it. You can find out more at WikiLeaks.org/TiSA. Also at OurWorldisNotforSale.org. We have a wealth of information and analysis. I would write to your local paper, to your local media, and ask them why they’re not covering it. Even the New York Times has not had a single article about this negotiation that is just about to enter its 21st round.

But people should also really contact their elected officials. At the city level even, at the state level, they’re all going to be bound to the terms of this agreement and most of them have no idea what’s going on. But your elected officials here in Washington are supposed to be representing them in these type of negotiations and they should hear from folks that they don’t want the regulation of all their services to be handed over to the biggest transnational corporations for them to decide the rules of the game. We need to stop the TiSA before it’s finalized and that’s only going to happen when US negotiators start hearing from the grassroots public that they oppose this type of very, very anti-democratic deal.

PERIES: Deborah, the deal is being expedited. According to the WikiLeaks, they want this certainly wrapped up before the federal government or the presidency changes in Washington. Why are they doing that and what will be the response on the part of let’s say a Hillary Clinton presidency?

JAMES: So your viewers may be more familiar with the Trans Pacific Partnership, the TPP that’s negotiated with the United States and many other Asian and a few Latin American countries. That as we know was signed just over a year ago and they have a very difficult time bringing it to congress because they know that they actually don’t have the votes to get it approved. Then there’s the TTIP between the US and Europe and that is actually faced so much intense rejection by the European public, the idea of bringing down their standards to the US level on things like labor and food safety, that it has been put on hold. So this is actually sort of a hail Mary pass by the big corporations.

Many of them are the same, of courses many of them are different because these are specifically focused on services technology, financial, logistics, shipping, transport, all of those. But they are just trying to get it finalized under the rug so to speak before people find out about it. We don’t know what a Hillary Clinton would say about the TiSA. We’ve seen now also from WikiLeaks, many of her comments of her advisors realizing that she needed to have a better position against the TPP when she was previously for it.

So I think the public is going to hold her feet to the fire on that issue, so at least it won’t be able to go up for a vote for at least maybe a year or something if it gets through the lame duck but it could very well be that they finalize a big portion of the TiSA in Geneva in secret in early December and then just keep going with some final edges of the negotiations in the coming months unless they hear from more people that there needs to be public consultations, that they need to stop negotiating the deal. All of the global union federations that represent services, so the transport workers, the education, the Public Service International, UniGlobal Union that represents telecommunications and financial services workers, the International Union of Food Workers, they all came out with the very first time a joint statement based on these leaks saying the time has come to stop these negotiations. They’re going way too fast, way too far, and they’re incorporating into binding treaties, rules that the vast majority of the public would completely reject.

PERIES: Alright Deborah I thank you so much for coming on the Real News and I hope you keep us abreast of the developments regarding TiSA in the coming weeks. Thank you so much.

JAMES: Thank you so much.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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