Since 2013, a conclave of governments calling themselves ‘The Really Good Friends of Services’, has been negotiating a secretive ‘Trade in Services Agreement’ (TiSA) that would set the rules for twenty-first century capitalism and place these rules beyond the reach of government regulation, now and in the future. The project is driven by a wealthy core including the US, EU, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and South Korea, and their leading corporations. The strategic goal is to transpose them into the WTO in order to anchor them within the global trade and investment regime.
A new report (TiSA: Not our Future!) prepared for the IUF by Professor Jane Kelsey of Auckland University reveals the scope of the corporate power grab through a close examination of TiSA’s potential impact on workers across the IUF sectors and TiSA’s broader implications for the labour movement, society and democratic governance.
The report explains in plain language the meaning and context of TiSA’s complex rules and how they are designed to lock in the corporate agenda. TiSA -and ‘trade in services’ components of other mega-trade deals like the reborn Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP, ex-TPPA) – are, on the one hand, a continuation of long-standing efforts to complete the corporations’ unfinished agenda at the WTO by establishing enforceable global rules on public and private services, finance and investment, domestic regulation and government procurement. But the new model ‘trade in services’ fuses these familiar objectives with the potent force of digitally-based technologies expressed in the rise of Big Tech.
‘E-commerce’ rules in TiSA are not about online shopping. They are about the control of the algorithms and data flows which are essential to the corporate-driven digitalization of everything, including work. When the WTO rules were established over two decades ago, digital ‘high precision’ agriculture fed a data stream from cloud computers did not exist. Nor did lab-grown meat and dairy, 3D printed meals, ‘smart fishing’, Airbnb, Amazon Prime food deliveries, UberEats, and digitally-based worker surveillance technologies.
Under current WTO rules, the products of IUF sectors like food processing and beverage manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries are treated as goods the moment they cross borders. TiSA introduces another layer of rules, under which every current and future task performed by workers in these sectors can be treated as a discrete, stand-alone ‘service’ to be outsourced to a transnational ‘service provider’ who is liberated and protected by TiSA’s rules. These service providers would not be required to have a physical presence in the countries they operate in, shielding them from regulation and liability.
The same rules would apply to all other manufacturing sectors and to the extractive industries. In the IUF sectors already treated as services – hotels, restaurants, catering – TiSA gives new impetus and encouragement to the ongoing process of outsourcing and casualization.
The report identifies the many ways in which TiSA will deepen the concentration of corporate power over all the IUF sectors and accelerate the fragmentation and precariousness of work in each of those sectors, eroding the capacity of workers to organise and to bargain on a workplace, national and international scale.
TiSA would accelerate a process of digitalized automation potentially resulting in massive job destruction, while its rules would radically reduce the possibility for workers to negotiate the application and impact of these new technologies. At the same time, TiSA’s rules on financial services effectively preclude meaningful efforts to regulate the crisis-prone financial sector through new laws or regulations. The volatile, speculative flow of money which increasingly drives food production and the global economy acquires even greater power to disrupt.
Understanding TiSA and similar provisions in the new generation of trade and investment deals is crucial to defeating them. As the report notes, the TiSA negotiations are currently suspended because opposition has made them – for the moment – politically toxic. In the immediate term, the task is to ensure that they are definitively abandoned. Defeating TiSA is both possible and necessary. But in a world where everything is now a ‘tradeable service’, they will resurface in another guise, just as the investment provisions of the defeated Multilateral Agreement on Investment have regularly resurfaced in the regional and bilateral trade and investment deals. The larger task facing the labour movement and its allies is to unwind the thickening web of trade and investment deals to reclaim the democratic policy space needed to defend worker rights, sustainable livelihoods, public services, the environment and the world’s food resources.