By Wieke van der Kroef and Niels Gheyle
Lurking in the shadow of TTIP and bypassing the dead-locked Doha WTO Round, the TiSA (short for Trade in Services Agreement) trade deal is ramping up towards its 11th round of negotiations this February.
Currently being negotiated between 23 members of the WTO, including the European Union and the US, TiSA is looking to open up negotiating partners’ services markets. This would make it easier for businesses to offer their services in other countries, which – in the view of the European Commission – should lead to growth, jobs, lower prices and more choice for consumers/businesses.
The topics on the table are areas already covered by the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and will include telecoms, e-commerce, postal services, financial services, and road and air transport. Each country controls how far it opens up its market as they all make a tailored commitment based on the way their market is structured, the sectors it wishes to shield from foreign competition and the level of economic development. A sort of liberalization à la carte, if you wish, where every state negotiates its own terms and conditions.
MEP Viviane Reding, (ex-Vice-President of the European Commission for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship) is rapporteur for the TiSA file and sees possibilities for international standards to be created in the interest of European companies: “the aim is really to export European standards, not to abolish them.” The deal should secure agreements for European citizens, such as lower roaming charges on non-EU trips, more passenger rights and online consumer protection.
Given the astonishing attention TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a potential free trade deal between the EU and US) is getting in and around the EU-bubble, TiSA seems to be progressing somewhat under the radar. As several sensitive topics such as intellectual property rights, dispute settlement mechanisms, audiovisual policy, public provision of education and health are excluded, the attention tends to remain low for the moment.
However, the European Parliament hopes to issue a report on the development of the negotiations in the fall of 2015. Moreover, as the agreement does touch upon data flows – a sensitive topic due to its close connection with data protection – opponents could link the TTIP and TiSA trade deals in their criticism. So in the coming months we might expect more attention to be paid to the TiSA talks and future negotiations. The fact that a recent petition to stop TiSA has been signed online by nearly 300.000 people could in this respect be seen as a bad omen.