Controversial ‘Trade In Services Agreement’ to be voted on in European Parliament this week

Controversial ‘Trade In Services Agreement’ to be voted on in European Parliament this week

Date: 30 January 2016

A controversial, far reaching trade agreement that critics call a ‘turbo-charged privatisation pact’ is set to be debated in the European Parliament in Strasbourg next week. Warning that the deal will be a ‘nail in the coffin’ of public services around the world, campaigners have called on MEPs to reject the agreement.

The Trade in Services Agreement (or TiSA) negotiations have been shrouded in secrecy, similar to those of its better-known sister agreement TTIP (the US-EU trade deal). The public’s only opportunity to scrutinize the deal have been through a series of the negotiating texts made available through Wikileaks. But these leaks show that TISA would aggressively promote privatisation and deregulation of services from parcel delivery and telecommunications to finance and energy production. According to World Bank figures, “services” comprise 75 percent of the EU economy and the majority of the global economy.

TISA is currently being negotiated between 50 countries, with the European Union (EU) negotiating on behalf of the UK. A series of recommendations on TiSA have been presented to MEPs and will be debated on Monday, and then a vote on those recommendations will be passed on Wednesday. The recommendations will then be made to the European Commission, though they aren’t binding.

Critics fear that TiSA would:

  • Accelerate the privatisation of public services
  • Give the financial sector the means to accelerate risky practices that led to the 2008 financial crisis
  • Prevent the establishment of public services in low income countries
  • Launch a liberalising assault on workers’ rights
  • Undermine citizens’ privacy on the net
  • Downgrade migrant labour rights

Nick Dearden, the director of Global Justice Now said:

“This deal is a threat to the very concept of public services. It is a turbo-charged privatisation pact, based on the idea that, rather than serving the public interest, governments must step out of the way and allow corporations to ‘get on with it’. Of particular concern, we fear TiSA will include clauses that will prevent governments taking public control of strategic services, and inhibit regulation of the very banks that created the financial crash. Even more scary, TISA will affect countries that haven’t even had the opportunity to develop decent public services like Pakistan. No wonder Uruguay already walked away from the talks. We urge MEPs to tell the European Union to do the same.”

What is the TiSA?

Negotiations have been on-going since March 2013 and the EU and some states are pressing hard for the TISA negotiations to be wrapped up in 2016. TiSA, like other free-trade agreements, is highly undemocratic. It has been negotiated in secret with minimal input from civil society and elected representatives.  A clearer view of what the TiSA entails only became possible when WikiLeaks leaked TiSA documents in summer 2015, and most recently, in December 2015.

Proponents of the TiSA say that it is required because the regulation of services has not been updated since the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in 1995. It is claimed that an updating of regulations in services under the TISA could lead to huge gains. Eliminating barriers to trade in services could boost US services exports, for example, by as much as $860 billion to up to $1.4 trillion, according to the Peterson Institute, and could create as many as 3 million American jobs, they say. 

However, trade unions, social justice campaigners and Wikileaks argue that TiSA is not about improving services or creating jobs but more about cutting regulation, curtailing the ability of governments to act in the public interest, and empowering large corporations.