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Barlow challenges TISA in Switzerland

Barlow speaking in Basel yesterday. Twitter photo by Frantisek Matous.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow spoke against the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) in Basel, Switzerland yesterday.

Barlow tweeted, “In Basel Switzerland fighting TISA, bad new trade agreement to liberalize world public services. Great group!” The “great group” Barlow notes is VPOD (Schweizerischer Verband des Personals öffentlicher Dienste), the Swiss trade union for employees in the public service.

Currently, the talks on TISA include 23 governments representing 50 countries. The countries involved 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.

Mitch Jones at Food and Water Watch has explained, “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.”

The Transnational Institute has noted, “[Its] original text excludes only those services performed under government authority. These services are considered non-commercial as they do not compete with other providers of services. In practice, however, public amenities such as health care, social services, education, postal, waste and water services are often financed and delivered by a mixed system  that is either wholly or partially funded by governments. These semi-public services do not fall under TISA’s narrow definition, and henceforth could be privatized at the drop of a hat. This could come at the expense of public access to education, healthcare or water services, all human rights.”

TNI adds, “TISA could mean that market reforms, such as the privatization of water companies, would become impossible to undo. Participating countries will have to declare and justify not wanting to outsource water services to the market. If water is not on this negative list, the government will be forced to give both national companies as well as multinational businesses a similar treatment. TISA will make it impossible for governments to reverse privatization or decrease the influence of the private sector. Governments will only be able to choose to maintain privatized services as they are or to extend liberalization.”

And Public Services International warns, “TISA would limit and may even prohibit remunicipalization because it would prevent governments from creating or reestablishing public monopolies or similarly ‘uncompetitive’ forms of service delivery. Of particular concern for remunicipalization projects are the proposed ‘standstill’ and ‘ratchet’ provisions in TISA. The standstill clause would lock in current levels of services liberalization in each country, effectively banning any moves from a market-based to a state-based provision of public services.”

Jones sums that up as, “Under TISA, privatization of local water systems would be made easier, and fights against privatization would be made harder.”

In addition, Our World Is Not for Sale has highlighted, “The United States seems to have ‘enforceability’ as a major demand for the TISA, which most likely points to their desire to include the ‘Investor to State Dispute Settlement’ mechanism.” This is the controversial mechanism that allows corporations to sue governments – through a special tribunal system rather than domestic courts – for policies that affect its future profits. An example of this would be Calgary-based TransCanada suing the U.S. government for $15 billion for its rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

As such, TISA is part of the toxic alphabet soup of so-called ‘trade’ agreements like the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that threaten water and our democratic rights.

The 17th round of TISA talks took place last month.

The Global Services Coalition, the main corporate proponent of the deal, is seeking to have TISA talks concluded by the end of this year.

The Council of Canadians joins with its allies – including ATTAC, War on Want, Food and Water Watch, the Transnational Institute, Global Justice Now, the German NGO Forum Environment & Development, and others – in calling for an immediate halt to the negotiations.