Fast Track will also fast-track TISA, a privatizing "Trade in Services" deal
by Gaius Publius
Fast Track is not just a path to TPP ... it's evil all on its own. There's now another leaked "trade" deal, called TISA, and Fast Track will "fast-track" that one too. Want your municipal water service privatized? How about your government postal service? Read on.
Most of the coverage of the Fast Track bill (formally called "Trade Promotion Authority" or TPA) moving through Congress is about how it will "grease the skids" for passage of TPP, the "next NAFTA" trade deal with 11 other Pacific rim countries. But as we pointed out here, TPA will grease the skids for anything the President sends to Congress as a "trade" bill — anything.
One of the "trade" deals being negotiated now, which only the wonks have heard about, is called TISA, or Trade In Services Agreement. Fast Track legislation, if approved, will grease the TISA skids as well.
Why do you care? Because (a) TISA is also being negotiated in secret, like TPP; (b) TISA chapters have been recently leaked by Wikileaks; and (c) what's revealed in those chapters should have Congress shutting the door on Fast Track faster and tighter than you'd shut the door on an invading army of rats headed for your apartment.
Congress won't shut that door on its own — the rats in this metaphor have bought most of its members — but it should. So it falls to us to force them. Stop Fast Track and you stop all these "trade" deals. (Joseph Stiglitz will explain below why I keep putting "trade" in quotes.)
What's TISA? It's worse than TPP. As you read the following, keep the word "services" in mind. TISA protects the right of big money players to make a profit from "services," any and all of them.
The Wikileaks Treasure Trove of TISA Documents
First, from the Wikileaks press release (my emphasis):
WikiLeaks releases today 17 secret documents from the ongoing TISA (Trade In Services Agreement) negotiations which cover the United States, the European Union and 23 other countries including Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Taiwan & Israel -- which together comprise two-thirds of global GDP. "Services" now account for nearly 80 per cent of the US and EU economies and even in developing countries like Pakistan account for 53 per cent of the economy. While the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has become well known in recent months in the United States, the TISA is the larger component of the strategic TPP-TISA-TTIP 'T-treaty trinity'. All parts of the trinity notably exclude the 'BRICS' countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Note the breadth of the nations involved (highlighted above), the scale of economic activity covered — in the case of the U.S and E.U., 80% of economic activity — and the fact that TISA, like TPP, will be fast-tracked if Fast Track passes.
The release coincides with TISA meetings at the ministerial level at the OECD in Paris today (3–5 June). The 'T-treaty trinity' of TPP-TISA-TTIP is also under consideration for collective 'Fast-Track' authority in Congress this month.
Click here to download or read the documents themselves. You'll notice, if you do, that the drafts are marked up with the positions of the negotiators, some of whom propose or agree with provisions, some of whom oppose them. Nowhere in these documents, however, are concerns of citizens addressed. These are agreements negotiated on behalf of corporations by governments to divide up the ways that money will be made.
I want to repeat that:
These are agreements negotiated on behalf of corporations by governments to divide up the ways that money will be made.
As noted, Fast Track will make the final agreements almost impossible to reject by the U.S. Congress. For this reason alone, Fast Track is evil all on its own. Let's look at some of the provisions of TISA.
TISA Will Make It Almost Impossible for Governments to Regulate Services
The problem with TISA? One is that it will make regulation of service activity — including financial services — almost impossible. Michael McAuliff at Huffington Post:
Wikileaks Drops Another Damning Trove Of Secret Trade Deal Documents
Leaked TISA documents include chapters on:
The latest trove of secret trade documents released by Wikileaks is offering opponents of the massive deals currently being crafted by the Obama administration more fodder to show that such agreements can impact United States laws and regulations.
The latest leak purports to include 17 documents from negotiations on the Trade In Services Agreement, a blandly named trade deal that would cover the United States, the European Union and more than 20 other countries. More than 80 percent of the United States economy is in service sectors.
According to the Wikileaks release, TISA, as the deal is known, would take a major step towards deregulating financial industries, and could affect everything from local maritime and air traffic rules to domestic regulations on almost anything if an internationally traded service is involved.
and I'm not sure that's the complete set. It's just what we have in this release.
- Air transport services
- Competitive delivery services
- Domestic regulations
- Electronic commerce
- International maritime transport services
- Movement of natural persons
- Professional services
- Telecommunications services
- Financial services
"Trade" Agreements, Regulations and Profit
The goal of all of these "treaties" is to protect the only thing being negotiated — the right of an investor or corporation to maximize profit from any country it wishes to operate in. I've always stated the concept this way:
In its simplest terms, “free trade” means one thing only — the ability of people with capital to move that capital freely, anywhere in the world, seeking the highest profit. It’s been said of Bush II, for example, that “when Bush talks of ‘freedom’, he doesn’t mean human freedom, he means freedom to move money.”
(By the way, "treaty" is hardly the word for these agreements, since nations are never negotiating them on behalf of their citizens. Nations are negotiating them on behalf of the corporations and investors who pull their strings. That's why citizens can't see them until they're signed, while corporate lobbyists have seats at the negotiating table.)
At its heart, free trade doesn’t mean the ability to trade freely per se; that’s just a byproduct. It means the ability to invest freely without governmental constraint. Free trade is why factories in China have American investors and partners — because you can’t bring down manufacturing wages in Michigan and Alabama if you can’t set up slave factories somewhere else and get your government to make that capital move cost-free, or even tax-incentivized, out of your supposed home country and into a place ripe for predation.
Here's Joseph Stiglitz on how and why these agreements are an attack on regulation:
On the Wrong Side of Globalization
A race to the bottom of what? The least regulation — governmental interference in profit-seeking — that they can get away with. These deals really are just about the money. Stiglitz continues:
... In general, trade deals today are markedly different from those made in the decades following World War II, when negotiations focused on lowering tariffs. As tariffs came down on all sides, trade expanded, and each country could develop the sectors in which it had strengths and as a result, standards of living would rise. Some jobs would be lost, but new jobs would be created.
Today, the purpose of trade agreements is different. Tariffs around the world are already low. The focus has shifted to “nontariff barriers,” and the most important of these — for the corporate interests pushing agreements — are regulations. Huge multinational corporations complain that inconsistent regulations make business costly. But most of the regulations, even if they are imperfect, are there for a reason: to protect workers, consumers, the economy and the environment.
What’s more, those regulations were often put in place by governments responding to the democratic demands of their citizens. Trade agreements’ new boosters euphemistically claim that they are simply after regulatory harmonization, a clean-sounding phrase that implies an innocent plan to promote efficiency. One could, of course, get regulatory harmonization by strengthening regulations to the highest standards everywhere. But when corporations call for harmonization, what they really mean is a race to the bottom.
When agreements like the TPP govern international trade — when every country has agreed to similarly minimal regulations — multinational corporations can return to the practices that were common before the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts became law (in 1970 and 1972, respectively) and before the latest financial crisis hit. Corporations everywhere may well agree that getting rid of regulations would be good for corporate profits. Trade negotiators might be persuaded that these trade agreements would be good for trade and corporate profits. But there would be some big losers — namely, the rest of us.
Why are these agreements always negotiated in secret these days? Because they're so toxic. TISA is yet another, perhaps the worst one. And forced deregulation may not be its worst aspect. Here's another reason to regard TISA with suspicion — forced privatization of government-supplied services.
These high stakes are why it is especially risky to let trade negotiations proceed in secret. All over the world, trade ministries are captured by corporate and financial interests. And when negotiations are secret, there is no way that the democratic process can exert the checks and balances required to put limits on the negative effects of these agreements.
TISA Could Force Privatization of Government Services, Like Water
Privatizing government services is a major goal of the "neo-liberal project" — something always negotiated, for example, by the enlightened elites at the IMF and World Bank before they bail out a country with too much debt, like Greece. Here's the Hellenic Shipping News, quoting a WSJ article:
Greece will proceed with the privatization of the country’s main port of Piraeus, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis plans to tell his eurozone counterparts at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, backtracking on previous statements from the new leftist government that had pledged to freeze the deal, senior Greek government officials said.
I said "neo-liberal project" for a reason. This is not the crazy right wing; these privatization projects are undertaken by people like Rahm Emanuel, backed by people like ex-Wall Street banker William Daley — both of whom are Clinton-Obama–associated Democrats. Parking control is a government service. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel sold that to "investors," many of them foreign. Rahm Emanuel is a "liberal," or more accurately, a classic neo-liberal.
The U-turn comes as Greece’s new leftist, Syriza-led coalition government scrambles to reach a financing deal with international creditors that will keep the country from running out of cash in coming weeks and potentially defaulting on its debts. Since being voted into power just over two weeks ago, the new government has set a collision course with its European creditors by promising to roll back many of the austerity measures and reforms—such as privatizations—that Greece has undertaken in the past five years to secure billions of euros in aid.
The New Democrat wing of the Democratic Party is also its "New Liberal" (aka neo-liberal) wing. Its members serve Money, have from DLC days onward, just like Republicans do, and privatizing services is a great way to make even more money for people who love only money. It's why the government Postal Service, for example, is being taken apart by both parties.
In Canada they're worried that TISA will force water privatization:
Public Services International has sounded the alarm about [TISA] negotiations in its new report, TISA Versus Public Services: The trade in services agreement and the corporate agenda.
"Decisions are not reversible" is its own topic. David Dayen discussed that a bit in this piece; look for references to "standstill" clauses.
Mitch Jones at Food and Water Watch explains, "Negotiations for TISA began in 2012 when a group of 20 World Trade Organization (WTO) members formed the 'Really Good Friends of Services' (no, I’m not making that up). These Really Good Friends decided to negotiate a new deal outside of the normal WTO framework."
He highlights, "Under TISA, privatization of local water systems would be made easier, and fights against privatization would be made harder."
The report says, "Remunicipalization is significant because it demonstrates that past decisions are not irreversible. ..."
The Road to "Corporate Domination"
Dayen is rarely given to exaggerated prose, yet under a headline referring to TISA as "The Scariest Trade Deal Nobody's Talking About," even he is forced to write:
You begin to sound like the guy hanging out in front of the local food co-op passing around leaflets about One World Government when you talk about TiSA, but it really would clear the way for further corporate domination over sovereign countries and their citizens.
And "corporate domination" can only mean domination by the very very wealthy, who use corporate power to feed off the rest of us — my own contribution to exaggerated prose.
Neo-liberal economist Jeffrey Sachs, quoted by ex-federal regulator Bill Black here, agrees, calling these same people and their moral environment "bluntly ... pathological":
I meet a lot of these people on Wall Street on a regular basis right now. I’m going to put it very bluntly. I regard the moral environment as pathological. And I’m talking about the human interactions that I have. I’ve not seen anything like this, not felt it so palpably. These people are out to make billions of dollars and nothing should stop them from that. They have no responsibility to pay taxes. They have no responsibility to their clients. They have no responsibility to people, counterparties in transactions. They are tough, greedy, aggressive, and feel absolutely out of control, you know, in a quite literal sense. And they have gamed the system to a remarkable extent, and they have a docile president, a docile White House, and a docile regulatory system that absolutely can’t find its voice. It’s terrified of these companies.
That's his contribution to exaggerated prose.
Sachs knows his way around the neo-liberal street, having worked it himself. For example, according to Wikipedia, as an adviser to the Polish government "Sachs and IMF economist David Lipton advised the rapid conversion of all property and assets from public to private ownership." It's not like he's not a fan of the project; it's that he's now appalled by the people who benefit from it.
International agreements like TISA are important tools in an expanded power grab by the hyper-wealthy people who buy and benefit from our elections, and government negotiators are their agents. The only disagreements at the negotiating table involve which country's predator (Nestlé, say) gets to eat which other country's prey (water rights in Oregon, for example). "Trade" agreements empower the predators under color of law.
Fast Track Is Evil All On Its Own
Your bottom line — if Fast Track passes, anything that any President can present to Congress as a "trade deal," for the next three to six years, will almost certainly pass. Fast Track forces the legislative calendar (no delays), forbids filibusters and amendments, and allows just up-or-down votes.
TPP, TTIP (a trans-Atlantic agreement also called TAFTA) and TISA all fall under the "Fast Track" umbrella. But I guarantee, if Fast Track passes, there will be more deals like these. Fast Track is a golden opportunity, and those who love gold, or serve those who do — that's you, Nancy Pelosi — will put it to very good use.
(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)