By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
It’s almost impossible to keep anything secret these days – not even the core text of a hyper-secret trade deal, the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), which has spent the last two years taking shape behind the hermetically sealed doors of highly secure locations around the world.
According to the agreement’s provisional text, the document is supposed to remain confidential and concealed from public view for at least five years after being signed! But now, thanks to WikiLeaks, it has seeped to the surface.
The Really, Really Good Friends of Services
TiSA is arguably the most important – yet least well-known – of the new generation of global trade agreements. According to WikiLeaks, it “is the largest component of the United States’ strategic ‘trade’ treaty triumvirate,” which also includes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP).
“Together, the three treaties form not only a new legal order shaped for transnational corporations, but a new economic ‘grand enclosure,’ which excludes China and all other BRICS countries” declared WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in a press statement. If allowed to take universal effect, this new enclosure system will impose on all our governments a rigid framework of international corporate law designed to exclusively protect the interests of corporations, relieving them of financial risk, and social and environmental responsibility.
Thanks to an innocuous-sounding provision called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, every investment they make will effectively be backstopped by our governments (and by extension, you and me); it will be too-big-to-fail writ on an unimaginable scale.
Yet it is a system that is almost universally supported by our political leaders. In the case of TiSA, it involves more countries than TTIP and TPP combined: The United States and all 28 members of the European Union, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey.
Together, these 52 nations form the charmingly named “Really Good Friends of Services” group, which represents almost 70% of all trade in services worldwide.
As WOLF STREET previously reported, one explicit goal of the TiSA negotiations is to overcome the exceptions in GATS that protect certain non-tariff trade barriers such as data protection. For example, the draft Financial Services Annex of TiSA, published by Wikileaks in June 2014, would allow financial institutions, such as banks, to transfer data freely, including personal data, from one country to another – in direct contravention of EU data protection laws.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. According to the treaty’s Annex on Financial Services, we now know that TiSA would effectively strip signatory governments of all remaining ability to regulate the financial industry in the interest of depositors, small-time investors, or the public at large.
1. TiSA will restrict the ability of governments to limit systemic financial risks. TiSA’s sweeping market access rules conflict with commonsense financial regulations that apply equally to foreign and domestic firms. One of those rules means that any governments that seeks to place limits on the trading of derivative contracts — the largely unregulated weapons of mass financial destruction that helped trigger the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis — could be dragged in front of corporate arbitration panels and forced to pay millions or billions in damages.
2. TiSA will force governments to “predict” all regulations that could at some point fall foul of TiSA. The leaked TISA text even prohibits policies that are “formally identical” for domestic and foreign firms if they inadvertently “modif[y] the conditions of competition” in favor of domestic firms:
For example, many governments require all banks to maintain a minimum amount of capital to guard against bank collapse. Even if the same minimum is required of domestic and foreign-owned banks alike, it could be construed as disproportionately impacting foreign-owned banks… This common financial protection could thus be challenged under TISA for “modifying the conditions of competition” in favor of domestic banks, despite governments’ prerogative to ensure the stability of foreign-owned banks operating in their territory.
3. TiSA will indefinitely bar new financial regulations that do not conform to deregulatory rules. Signatory governments will essentially agree not to apply new financial policy measures which in any way contradict the agreement’s emphasis on deregulatory measures.
4. TiSA will prohibit national governments from using capital controls to prevent or mitigate financial crises. As we are seeing in Greece right now, capital controls are terrible. But for a government facing the complete breakdown of the financial system, they serve as a last resort for restoring some semblance of order. Even the IMF, which urged countries to abandon capital controls in the Washington Consensus years of the 1990s, recently endorsed capital controls as a means of maintaining the stability of the financial system. But if TiSA is signed, the signatory governments will be prohibited from using them:
The leaked texts prohibit restrictions on financial inflows – used to prevent rapid currency appreciation, asset bubbles and other macroeconomic problems – and financial outflows, used to prevent sudden capital flight in times of crisis.
5. TiSA will require acceptance of financial products not yet invented. Despite the pivotal role that new, complex financial products played in the Financial Crisis, TISA would require governments to allow all new financial products and services, including ones not yet invented, to be sold within their territories.
6. TiSA will provide opportunities for financial firms to delay financial regulations. If signed, TISA will require governments to address financial firms’ criticism of a regulatory proposal when publishing a final version of the regulation. Even then, governments would be obliged to wait a “reasonable time” before allowing the new regulation to take effect. In the United States, such requirements have produced delays sometimes lasting years in the enactment of urgently needed financial and other safeguards. If the same process is applied across the globe, it would make it almost impossible for government to constrain the activities of the world’s largest banks.
What that would likely mean is that when (not if) a new global financial crisis takes place in the not-too-distant future, the banks will once again be on hand to lead efforts to clean up and rebuild with taxpayer money the very sector that they themselves have destroyed. Lather, rinse, repeat. Only this time, on an even grander scale. By Don Quijones, Raging Bull-Shit.