Little is Known About the Trade in Services Agreement
Add this to the list of bad international deals aimed at increasing corporate profit: the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA).
Like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), TISA has little to do with lifting trade barriers. And, like TPP and TTIP, it is a mega-deal involving many countries.
Its purpose is to deregulate services in both the government and private sector in order to increase corporate profit. It seeks to limit the role of democratic governments to regulate in the public interest. As a result, it could lower wages and working conditions for tens of millions of workers who provide services. Worse, TISA could take away their jobs.
And yet the American public is even less aware of TISA than it is of the two other looming mega-deals. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is working hard to shine a light on the threat posed by TISA. To that end, the Teamsters are working closely with Public Services International, a global union federation of public sector trade unions representing 20 million working women and men who deliver public services in 154 countries.
The Teamsters and PSI held a historic international summit in 2014 in Washington, D.C., to discuss how trade-in-service agreements would have devastating results on public service jobs. Also present were members of Congress, the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers.
“The Teamsters Union and the other unions represented at this summit oppose trade deals that threaten service sector workers just as we always have for workers who produce goods that families rely on,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa.
Dave Prentis, PSI’s president, said there is a need to educate the public so rank-and-file workers better understand the challenges they could face under the TPP, TTIP or TISA. “Our aim is a completely new debate about whether these agreements are helping workers,” he said.
Threat to Public Services
Like other mega-deals like TPP and TTIP, TISA is being negotiated in secret and, apart from occasional leaked documents, little is known about what’s in it.
Public Services International is leading the effort to keep tabs on this agreement and research its potential impacts.
Rosa Pavanelli, PSI’s general secretary, warned the consequences could be dire.
“The new wave of trade agreements are about far more than trade," Pavanelli said. "They enshrine the power of corporations in ways only loosely related to trade. They lock in liberalization, promote privatization and restrict governments’ right to regulate.”
PSI points out that public services are designed to provide vital social and economic necessities, such as health care and education. They exist because markets won’t necessarily produce affordable services for people who need it. Public services also exist, argues PSI, to make sure competition is fair and to prevent economic, social and environmental disasters.
“Trade agreements consciously promote commercialization and define goods and services in terms of their ability to be exploited for profit by global corporations,” Pavanelli said. “Even the most ardent supporters of trade agreements admit that there are winners and losers in this rigged game.”
The losers could be corrections officers, doctors, public health nurses, water quality technicians, teachers, sanitation workers, mail carriers and social workers.
Ironically, TISA is being negotiated at a time when there is a backlash against privatization.
Many states and municipalities burned by high costs and poor performance of private service providers are bringing those services back under the government’s control. Last year, Maryland passed a law banning private contractors from contracting with the state if they broke the law.
In Oregon, Nebraska and Connecticut, legislatures passed laws requiring more supervision of private contracts.
Nineteen states had legislation introduced that would let taxpayers reclaim control of public services.
But TISA negotiators have a trick up their sleeves. The TISA would limit and possibly ban the return of privatized services to governments. According to PSI, TISA would “prevent governments from creating or reestablishing public monopolies or similar ‘uncompetitive’ forms of service delivery.”
It would also lock in any privatization of government services. PSI explains that “if a government did decide to privatize a public service, that government would be unable to return to a public model at a later date.”
What is especially troubling about TISA is the potential breadth of its scope. It would apply to every possible means of providing services internationally, including:
Cross-border services such as telemedicine, distance education or internet gambling;
Consumption abroad, such as tourism or medical tourism;
Foreign direct investment, such as a bank setting up a branch in another country or a multinational corporation providing municipal water or electricity services;
Temporary movement of people, such as when nurses, housekeepers or corporate executives travel abroad temporarily to provide services.
That list could include private-sector workers such as locomotive engineers, airline pilots, bus drivers, truck drivers and warehouse workers.
TISA could well allow foreign airlines to operate within the United States or foreign investors to own U.S. airlines.
It could exempt foreign drivers from the requirement that they have U.S. drivers' licenses or the equivalent, or it could exempt them from drug tests.
It could vastly expand the number of work visas allowed in each country by striking the requirement that companies demonstrate a shortage of workers. In other words, more migrant workers could flood the U.S. market, hired by bad-actor employers who will pay them little and lower the wages of their American competitors.
TISA could also affect public interest regulations that affect services. The deal could actually allow corporations to challenge local water quality standards, municipal zoning laws, permits for toxic waste disposal services, tobacco regulations, alcohol restrictions, accreditation of educational institutions and degree-granting authority.
It should be no surprise that TISA negotiators have no plans for enforceable labor and human rights protections.
That could create a nightmare scenario in which labor recruiters charge exorbitant fees to lure impoverished workers, hold their passports and travel documents hostage and keep the workers in virtual slavery.
The scope of the negotiations is truly alarming. Currently, the talks include 23 governments representing 50 countries.
The current negotiating parties are Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, and the European Union, representing its 28 member states. Talks began in 2012 and it is unclear when they will be concluded.
PSI, in a report, characterized the deal as part of an “alarming new wave of trade and investment agreements founded on legally-binding powers that institutionalize the rights of investors and prohibit government actions in a wide range of areas only incidentally related to trade.”
“It will be the same for service workers as it is for the manufacturing workers – the bosses get their NAFTA and their CAFTA and the workers get the SHAFTA,” Hoffa said. “And with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) looming, as well as the lesser-known Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), there is reason for real concern.”