TISA - backdoor services liberalisation on a global level!
The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) currently under negotiation on the side-line of the World Trade Organization (WTO) poses significant deregulatory threats for the majority of services sectors. International trade in services is dealt with by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and its annexes. Each WTO country so far autonomously decides which sectors are to be opened up to cross-border competition. Services sectors liberalisation is carried out once governments gave their explicit agreement to do so (positive lists). TISA intends to reverse this logic and implement a negative listing of liberalisation commitments. Only explicitly targeted sectors in the agreement would not be subject to further liberalisation. This poses significant risks of liberalising all services sectors of the economy unless explicitly exempted from the agreement.
TISA would contain “Standstill” and “Ratchet” clauses. Standstill clauses effectively freeze the degrees of regulation in particular sectors and countries are no longer free to implement more strident regulatory provisions. A recently leaked text showed that the financial services industry, through TISA, intends to freeze international financial regulatory efforts by setting a minimum regulatory floor which could not be subsequently superseded by any government wishing so. Ratchet clauses effectively impede government to reverse achieved liberalisation floors. Once a sector is liberalised, there cannot be a turning back. These clauses mean that governments will no longer be able to challenge decisions and choices made by previous governments. The combination of the ratchet and standstill clauses renders the reversal of liberalisation levels impossible. Additionally, TISA could prescribe necessity tests for regulatory measures. Governments would have to prove the necessity of a regulatory instrument before implementing it. For example, in a discussion of universal coverage, a Government would have to prove the necessity of re-regulating already privatised services such as postal services.
The self-proclaimed ‘Really-Good-Friends-of-Services’ (RGFS), initiators of TISA, excluded emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa from the negotiations. Such exclusions are problematic from a developmental viewpoint. The secrecy of the negotiations and its blurred legal basis are certainly disquieting. National Treatment clauses represent a threat to public services and limit government’s capacities to regulate in the public interest now and in the future.
Services in the TISA context encompass various sectors such as financial services, telecommunications, e-commerce, transport services, independent professional services, energy services, postal services, information technology, wholesale and retail trade, etc. Trade unions are fiercely opposed to TISA and are mobilising worldwide. UNI has signed the "Stop TISA" petition, calling on participating governments to withdraw from the negotiations.
TISA is mainly concerned with regulatory aspects of trade in services, and as such poses serious deregulatory threats to worker safety, environmental and consumer standards, and the promotion of the public interest. Trade unions are also concerned with the liberalisation of Mode IV of service supply. The free movement of natural persons must not lead to social and wage dumping.