The Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) is a massive trade deal, under negotiation since 2013, between the member states of the EU and (currently) 22 others collectively calling themselves the “Really Good Friends of Services”. Their common objective is “of progressively liberalising trade in services as a means of promoting economic growth and increasing participation of developing and least developed countries in world trade.” (http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-6891-2013-ADD-1-DCL-1/en/pdf)(They notably exclude the major emerging world economies such as Brazil, Russia and China.) TiSA is concerned with about 70% of the global trade in services.
TiSA is backed by some of the world’s biggest corporations, such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, Walt Disney, Walmart, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase and there are concerns that, not only are such corporations putting massive pressure on negotiators to influence the content of TiSA, but there is little resistance to such pressure (http://www.euractiv.com/section/public-affairs/news/report-lobbyists-heavily-influencing-tisa-negotiations/).
TiSA poses significant threat to public healthcare services. It contains a ‘ratchet’ clause that will lock in any privatisation of public services – making it impossible to restore public control, even where private service delivery has failed. And TiSA will make it more difficult for the UK government to expand public services in future.
TiSA also aims to limit regulation on service sectors at national, regional and local levels. The agreement has “standstill” clauses to freeze existing regulations and prevent the introduction of new ones, for example on technical standards or professional qualifications. This could mean that governments are no longer able to regulate staff-to-patient ratios, tighten safety controls on airlines or ban tracking.
It will also reduce, if not remove, the ability of the government to regulate privately-delivered services and restrict its ability to regulate key sectors such as finance, energy, telecommunications and cross-border data flows. For example, TiSA includes a prohibition on laws that require service providers to store data locally, which some countries have used to protect sensitive personal information, such as health data, from being snooped on if stored abroad. (See https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/05/tisa-yet-another-leaked-treaty-youve-never-heard-makes-secret-rules-internet.)
It appears that TiSA will not include a dispute mechanism like ISDS (as found in TTIP, for example) to challenge government initiatives that might affect business profits, but will instead rely on the method used by the World Trade Organisation’s state-to-state dispute mechanism. In this approach, treaty members are able to file challenges against each other over regulations that they believe represent a “disguised restriction on trade in services”. In practice, this method, as it’s used by the WTO, has almost always delivered a verdict against new regulations.
Any new services that develop in future (e.g. as a result of technological innovation) will automatically be included in TiSA, without further negotiation.
The treaty’s negotiations have been highly secretive and the concessions being made by negotiators will only be publicly available five years after TiSA comes into force.
Negotiations on TiSA were due to be discussed at a meeting in Geneva in December 2016, with the possibility of wrapping up negotiations. But this has been cancelled due to differences of opinion within the European Union and recent developments in the US. The election of Donald Trump creates problems for TiSA given that he appears critical of large trade deals. However, TiSA is about services and not industrial goods, and so it can’t be ruled out that, in time, the Trump administration will come to look on it more favourably.