Ten things you need to know about TiSA

While global attention has been focused on other trade deals, such as the TPP, governments and corporations have been working hard to push through the Trade in Services Agreement” (TiSA). TiSA negotiations are between the US, the EU (28 countries), Australia and about 20 other mostly industrialised countries*.

Negotiations began in 2013. They were suspended by the US Trump administration at the end of 2016, but they could be resumed. The negotiations are being driven by global service corporations which want to deregulate trade in services further than what can be achieved through the current World Trade Organisation General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and open them to cross-border private investment.

Negotiations have been shrouded in secrecy but leaked documents show that global services corporations and some governments are using the deal to push a deregulation and privatisation agenda.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. It's massive, but excludes most low income countries

All 28 EU member states, as well as the United States, Australia and 20 other mostly high income countries* are involved in TiSA negotiations, meaning the deal will cover around 70 per cent of global trade in services.

Emerging economies like Brazil, India, China, Russia, and over 100 developing country WTO members are not included in making the rules, but would be pressured to join later.

2. Negotiations are secret

TiSA negotiations are held behind closed doors, with very little public consultation and no public access to negotiating texts. But ‘corporate advisors’ representing global services companies have access to negotiators to push their deregulation and privatisation agendas.

3. Almost all services will be affected

TiSA could set rules affecting almost all service provision including education, healthcare, transport, water, telecommunications, postal services, aged care, child care, energy, retail and banking services. These are services which many of us use each day. It’s claimed that “public services” are not included in the negotiations but the TiSA definition of what constitutes a public service is very ambiguous.

4. De-regulation is the aim

Instead of reducing tariffs on goods, TiSA aims to reduce government regulation on services, by freezing regulation at current levels and reducing it over time. This suits global services corporations but not peoples’ needs.

Many services require regulation or public provision to ensure that they are delivered safely and equitably. For example, in democratic societies like Australia we expect government to ensure that everyone has access to services like healthcare and education. Likewise, natural monopolies, such as electricity generation, water and transport require regulation to ensure access and protect consumers.

TiSA could prevent or limit future regulation needed to achieve these goals.

5. Hidden privatisation agenda

The TiSA pushes for the privatisation of public services in many ways: through its ambiguous definition of what constitutes a “public” service, by allowing greater accesses to services markets for global corporations and through rules which will make reversing a decision to privatise almost impossible.

Privatisation is a politically sensitive issue in Australia where, according to the chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, it has often failed to deliver promised outcomes, led to price rises for consumers and damaged the economy. Any decision to privatise or to reverse a privatisation should be made through an open democratic process and should not be bound by rules made in secret trade negotiations.

6. Re-regulation not an option

TiSA would stop governments from putting stronger regulations in place in the future, limiting their ability to respond to future crises or changed circumstances.

For example, the TiSA would have limited government regulation of the financial sector in response to the global financial crisis in 2008.

Deregulation and private tendering for Australian vocational education services resulted in fraudulent advertising, failure to provide courses to students and misuse of government funds. If TiSA had been already in force, it could have prevented the government from re-regulating the vocational education sector, because of commitments which prevent future increases in regulation

7. Race to the bottom on quality, safety, more temporary workers

TISA rules for licensing, qualifications and service standards not to be "burdensome" could prevent future improvements in staffing and qualifications in industries like child care and aged care.

TiSA also has provisions to increase numbers of temporary overseas “contractual service providers” without testing if local workers are available. Studies show these workers are vulnerable to exploitation, which can undermine wages and conditions in those industries.

8. Online privacy at risk

Governments could effectively lose their ability to protect their citizens’ personal data through national laws. TiSA rules could bypass national privacy laws and enable personal data to be stored in countries which do not have effective privacy laws.

9. Limited regulation for future services

Trade agreements like the TiSA bind governments for decades, limiting their ability to respond to future challenges like climate change, corporate tax evasion or another financial crisis. TISA could also prevent regulation of future new services - that is, services which have not even been invented yet.

10. TiSA talks could resume

Negotiators had aimed to finish TiSA negotiations in 2016, but this was abandoned after a November 2016 ministerial meeting was cancelled, in part due EU concerns over data privacy, market access and the regulation of new services. The US  Trump adminisatration has suspended negotiations but they could be resumed .

*The TiSA negotiators are Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union (28 countries), Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Mauritius,  Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Pakistan, Peru, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States


Take action:

We need to tell our Government not to trade away regulation of essential services. Take action by sending a message to Trade Minister Steve Ciobo.

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Updated: February 2018