WikiLeaks on Wednesday released a trove of documents detailing previously unknown pro-corporate provisions and updates to the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), exposing the extent to which the U.S.-driven deal will force signatory nations to privatize public services and deregulate corporations.
As the 52 nations involved in TISA comprise a full two-thirds of global GDP, the deal is poised to impact billions of lives around the world. The 18th round of negotiations on TISA resumed Thursday.
Released for the very first time on Wednesday was TISA’s annex on “State-Owned Enterprises” (SOEs), which mandates that public services must be treated like private businesses. The documents reveal that the annex was introduced only two days after the U.S. successfully forced through similar text in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) in October 2015.
Trade expert Jane Kelsey, who teaches law at the University of Auckland, described how the U.S. pushed through such provisions in order to target other nations’ public services—and China’s in particular:
When the [TPP] negotiations began in 2010 the U.S. made it clear that it required a chapter on SOEs. The goal was always to create precedent-setting rules that could target China, although the U.S. also had other countries’ SOEs in its sights—the state-managed Vietnamese economy, various countries’ sovereign wealth funds, and once Japan joined, Japan Post’s banking, insurance and delivery services. All the other countries were reluctant to concede the need for such a chapter and the talks went around in circles for several years. Eventually the U.S. had its way.
“The U.S. proposal for TISA adopts and adapts key parts of the [TPP] chapter that force majority-owned SOEs to operate like private sector businesses,” Kelsey added. “The most extreme, complicated and potentially unworkable provisions in the [TPP] relating to state support are not included—yet. But there is an extraordinary power for a single TISA party to require the development of those rules if another TISA country, or a country seeking to join TISA, has too many large SOEs.”
Observers have long taken note of the implicitly anti-China stance of the several U.S.-backed pro-corporate “free trade” deals being negotiated now. While TISA is perhaps the least well-known of these agreements, together with the TPP and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP), the deals “form not only a new legal order shaped for transnational corporations, but a new economic ‘grand enclosure,’ which excludes China and all other BRICS countries,” as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange put it last year.
The leaked documents also showed new, multinational-friendly updates to sections of the deal titled “Domestic Regulation,” “Transparency,” and “New Provisions.” The latest versions, argues WikiLeaks,
have further advanced towards the ‘deregulation’ objectives of big corporations entering overseas markets. Local regulations like store size restrictions or hours of operations are considered an obstacle to achieve ‘operating efficiencies’ of large-scale retailing, disregarding their public benefit that foster livable neighbors and reasonable hours of work for employees.
Consumer protection advocates are outraged that such radically pro-corporate deals are being hidden and negotiated away from public view.
“Consumer organizations shouldn’t have to rely on leaks to find out about negotiations that will have a major impact on consumers’ lives,” said Amanda Long, general director of the UK-based Consumers International, on Wednesday. “Without greater transparency, the negotiations can’t be exposed to the scrutiny needed to design a good agreement and build public trust, this must be a priority.”
The impact of such an agreement will indeed be major: “The TISA provisions in their current form will establish a wide range of new grounds for domestic regulations to be challenged by corporations—even those without a local presence in that country,” WikiLeaks concluded.
Kelsey observed, “As President Obama said of the [TPP] in October 2015, these agreements are about the U.S. making the rules for the global economy in the 21st century[…] in ways that ‘reflect America’s values.'”
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