If You Thought the Trans-Pacific Partnership Was Bad, Get a Load of This

Donald Trump fulfilled his campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the much-reviled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on his first day in office.

This was a big win for his supporters, his detractors—America as a whole.

The problem is that leaving TPP is meaningless as long as America remains in the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). What is TiSA? It’s a proposed international agreement among the United States, the European Union, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Chile, Columbia, Peru, Norway, Switzerland, Pakistan, and Turkey. Although is has been through 21 rounds of negotiations since 2013, very few people know it exists—fewer still know what it does. Put simply, TiSA deregulates international banks and financial firms, voids internet privacy laws, and broadens the definition of “services” to include manufactured goods, thereby reviving TPP.

Basically, TiSA was designed as a backdoor to ensure unfettered economic globalization could continue if TPP died—it was a failsafe. This becomes increasingly clear when looking at documents released by WikiLeaks.

To the extent the Obama Administration discussed TiSA at all, U.S. trade officials contended the agreement would “create economic opportunity for U.S. workers and businesses by expanding trade opportunities.” Cutting through the boilerplate, TiSA would be much larger than TPP, and would have a similar effect. That is TiSA broadly, but the Devil’s in the details.

According Wikileaks, article nine of TiSA’s draft language would eliminate additional regulations for foreign financial institutions, ensuring that countries cannot make separate rules for foreign-owned banks. Ideally, this levels the playing field; in reality it would confer major advantages to foreign institutions over their American competition. Why? Because sub-national governments, such as U.S. states or Canadian provinces, often draw artificial boundaries to protect their local financial firms from competitors in New York or Toronto.

The utility of such regulations is hotly debated, but both sides should agree that TiSA would make things worse. Under TiSA, regulations would remain in effect domestically, but would not apply to foreign firms. Thus, big British banks, like HSBC or Barclay’s, would have a field day out-competing local American banks. It would be open season.

Another problem: according to an analysis by Public Citizen, companies would have the right to sell financial derivatives, including those not yet invented, in all participating countries. Essentially, individual countries would lose the right to restrict the type of financial products sold. This is a recipe for spreading financial contagion globally.

Next, article 10 of TiSA undermines Internet privacy by banning restrictions on the transfer of information in “electronic or other form” from any “financial service supplier.” This is a problem because “financial service suppliers” are not limited to corporations such as banks, but also include Internet service providers and data aggregators, including Facebook and Google. In essenceessense, TiSA would stop countries from making regulations that prohibit the movement of data beyond its borders, giving foreign firms free reign. TiSA would make “borderless data” international law.

The personal privacy ramifications of TiSA are obvious, but TiSA could also impact U.S. national security, as well as that of our allies. For example, German privacy laws preventing the transfer of data to Turkey would be voided—this could be a major problem, especially with the rise and radicalization the Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The same is true here: TiSA would make it much easier for foreign firms to act as moles. It makes us more vulnerable to blackmail, fraud, or other forms of cyberattack.

Finally, although TiSA was supposed to facilitate the free flow of services—for example, making it easier to hire a foreign accounting or engineering firm—the agreement goes well beyond that narrow scope. In fact, TiSA resurrects TPP by redefining “services” so broadly that many manufactured goods are covered. In effect, TiSA operates as a shadowy version of TPP.

As Deborah James of the Center for Economic Policy Research explains:

Corporations no longer consider setting up a plant and producing goods to be simply ‘manufactured goods.’ This activity is now broken down into research and development services, design services, construction services, energy services, employment contracting services, consulting services, manufacturing services, adult education services, payroll services, maintenance services, refuse disposal services, warehousing services, data management services, telecommunications services, audiovisual services, banking services, marketing services, retail services, postal and expedited delivery services, and after-sales servicing, to name a few.

Going further, a shoe or watch that measures steps or sleep could be a fitness monitoring service, not a good. A driver-less (sic) car could be a transport service, not an automobile. Google and Facebook could be information services and communication services, respectively.

Almost any modern good could technically be interpreted as a service under TiSA, and therefore TiSA revives the bulk of TPP. This will help facilitate increased offshore outsourcing, and will do tremendous damage to America’s economy.

But beyond that: Americans were against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and they would be against Trade in Services Agreement if they knew about it. In order for President Trump to fulfil his promise to Americans, he needs to scrap TiSA, just as he jettisoned the TPP. Thankfully, TiSA negotiations are currently on hold. That means Americans still have time to learn about TiSA, and resist it. It is not too late.


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