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Trade in Services Agreement talks appear stalled, but remain a threat to the public interest

There has not been a lot of recent media coverage on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), so it can be a challenge to assess its status.

In April, the BBC reported, “[The negotiation for a Trade in Services Agreement] is not yet complete and so it is not yet an ‘agreement’, strictly speaking.”

Then in late-June, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development reported, “Negotiators for [TiSA] attempted to reach a political deal before the end of last year. However, those efforts were put on hold after disagreements on some substantive issues and uncertainty over the new US leadership’s approach.”

At that time, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer stated in response to a question about TiSA, “That [agreement] certainly is an important one and I don’t expect it to fall by the wayside. We’re doing an evaluation right now across the board, and when that is done, we’ll move forward.”

And on November 28, British trade minister Liam Fox stated, “We must work together to see the revitalisation of ambitious projects such as the Trade in Services Agreement, currently becalmed in Geneva.” Two days later, a joint statement issued by the Australian and British trade ministers recognized “the value of progressing the Trade in Services Agreement as soon as possible”.

The talks on TiSA began in 2012 and 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.

In terms of the ‘rationale’ for the deal, the BBC has explained, “[The service sector] accounts for 78 per cent or more of national economic activity in the UK, France and the US [but] the value of global trade in goods still exceeds services by a factor of more than three. …Barriers to services trade [have] come in the form of regulation – not the tariffs or taxes that impinge on commerce in goods.”

That article adds, “Countries sometimes impose limits on the percentage share of ownership that foreign companies can have in a business that provides services. …There can also be nationality requirements. …In just about all countries practitioners of many professions require approved qualifications [and] the extent to which there is mutual recognition of other countries’ qualifications varies. There are also sometimes licensing and residency requirements which can stand in the way of cross-border provision.”

And the BBC has noted, “Critics accuse the governments involved of negotiating in secret. They also criticise the ‘ratchet clause’ that the agreement is likely to include, which would prevent countries from reintroducing trade barriers that they had removed. Critics say that would make it harder for any government involved to reverse the privatisation of any services that had been transferred to the private sector. They also say it would undermine the rights of governments to regulate in the public interest.”

The Council of Canadians has highlighted that TiSA would:

1- be a block on remunicipalizing water and sanitation services

2- promote the deregulation of financial services

3- be an obstacle to renewable energy, deregulate the energy services and mining sectors

4- hurt privacy and migrant rights

5- promote the offshoring of health care services

While the Global Affairs website says “Canada holds a significant interest in the TISA negotiations”, the Council of Canadians calls on the Trudeau government to immediately withdraw from TiSA talks.