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The Scariest Trade Deal Nobody’s Talking About Just Suffered a Big Leak

By David Dayen

The Obama administration’s desire for “fast track” trade authority is not limited to passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In fact, that may be the least important of three deals currently under negotiation by the U.S. Trade Representative. The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would bind the two biggest economies in the world, the United States and the European Union. And the largest agreement is also the least heralded: the 51-nation Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

On Wednesday, WikiLeaks brought this agreement into the spotlight by releasing 17 key TiSA-related documents, including 11 full chapters under negotiation. Though the outline for this agreement has been in place for nearly a year, these documents were supposed to remain classified for five years after being signed, an example of the secrecy surrounding the agreement, which outstrips even the TPP.

Would You Feel Differently About Julian Assange If You Knew What He Really Thought?

TiSA has been negotiated since 2013, between the United States, the European Union, and 22 other nations, including Canada, Mexico, Australia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, and others scattered across South America and Asia. Overall, 12 of the G20 nations are represented, and negotiations have carefully incorporated practically every advanced economy except for the “BRICS” coalition of emerging markets (which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

The deal would liberalize global trade of services, an expansive definition that encompasses air and maritime transport, package delivery, e-commerce, telecommunications, accountancy, engineering, consulting, health care, private education, financial services and more, covering close to 80 percent of the U.S. economy. Though member parties insist that the agreement would simply stop discrimination against foreign service providers, the text shows that TiSA would restrict how governments can manage their public laws through an effective regulatory cap. It could also dismantle and privatize state-owned enterprises, and turn those services over to the private sector. You begin to sound like the guy hanging out in front of the local food co-op passing around leaflets about One World Government when you talk about TiSA, but it really would clear the way for further corporate domination over sovereign countries and their citizens.

Reading the texts (here’s an example, the annex on air transport services) makes you realize the challenge for members of Congress or interested parties to comprehend a trade agreement while in negotiation. The “bracketed” text includes each country’s offer, merged into one document, with notations on whether the country proposed, is considering, or opposes each specific provision. You need to either be a trade lawyer or a very alert reader to know what’s going on. But between the text and a series of analyses released by WikiLeaks, you get a sense for what the countries negotiating TiSA want.

First, they want to limit regulation on service sectors, whether at the national, provincial or local level. The agreement has “standstill” clauses to freeze regulations in place and prevent future rulemaking for professional licensing and qualifications or technical standards. And a companion “ratchet” clause would make any broken trade barrier irreversible.

It may make sense to some to open service sectors up to competition. But under the agreement, governments may not be able to regulate staff to patient ratios in hospitals, or ban fracking, or tighten safety controls on airlines, or refuse accreditation to schools and universities. Foreign corporations must receive the same “national treatment” as domestic ones, and could argue that such regulations violate their ability to provide the service. Allowable regulations could not be “more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of the service,” according to TiSA’s domestic regulation annex. No restrictions could be placed on foreign investment—corporations could control entire sectors.

This would force open dozens of services, including ones where state-owned enterprises, like the national telephone company in Uruguay or the national postal service of Italy, now operate. Previously, public services would be either broken up or forced into competition with foreign service providers. While the United States and European Union assured in a joint statement that such privatization need not be permanent, they also “noted the important complementary role of the private sector in these areas” to “improve the availability and diversity of services,” which doesn’t exactly connote a hands-off policy on the public commons.

Corporations would get to comment on any new regulatory attempts, and enforce this regulatory straitjacket through a dispute mechanism similar to the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process in other trade agreements, where they could win money equal to “expected future profits” lost through violations of the regulatory cap.

For an example of how this would work, let’s look at financial services. It too has a “standstill” clause, which given the unpredictability of future crises could leave governments helpless to stop a new and dangerous financial innovation. In fact, Switzerland has proposed that all TiSA countries must allow “any new financial service” to enter their market. So-called “prudential regulations” to protect investors or depositors are theoretically allowed, but they must not act contrary to TiSA rules, rendering them somewhat irrelevant.

Most controversially, all financial services suppliers could transfer individual client data out of a TiSA country for processing, regardless of national privacy laws. This free flow of data across borders is true for the e-commerce annex as well; it breaks with thousands of years of precedent on locally kept business records, and has privacy advocates alarmed.

There’s no question that these provisions reinforce Senator Elizabeth Warren’s contention that a trade deal could undermine financial regulations like the Dodd-Frank Act. The Swiss proposal on allowances for financial services could invalidate derivatives rules, for example. And harmonizing regulations between the U.S. and EU would involve some alteration, as the EU rules are less stringent.

Member countries claim they want to simply open up trade in services between the 51 nations in the agreement. But there’s already an international deal governing these sectors through the World Trade Organization (WTO), called the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The only reason to re-write the rules is to replace GATS, which the European Union readily admits (“if enough WTO members join in, TiSA could be turned into a broader WTO agreement”).

That’s perhaps TiSA’s real goal—to pry open markets, deregulate and privatize services worldwide, even among emerging nations with no input into the agreement. U.S. corporations may benefit from such a structure, as the Chamber of Commerce suggests, but the impact on workers and citizens in America and across the globe is far less clear. Social, cultural, and even public health goals would be sidelined in favor of a regime that puts corporate profits first. It effectively nullifies the role of democratic governments to operate in the best interest of their constituents.

Unsurprisingly, this has raised far more concern globally than in the United States. But a completed TiSA would go through the same fast-track process as TPP, getting a guaranteed up-or-down vote in Congress without the possibility of amendment. Fast-track lasts six years, and negotiators for the next president may be even more willing to make the world safe for corporate hegemony. “This is as big a blow to our rights and freedom as the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America in a statement, “and in both cases our government’s secrecy is the key enabler.”

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China: Guidelines welcome foreign money

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Government officials and experts said the new guidelines are in keeping with proposals contained in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), which seeks to lay the foundations for a more innovative and greener economy. [Photo / China Daily]
 Updated: 2011-12-30 09:03
By Ding Qingfen and Lan Lan (China Daily)

Ministry opens more industries to investment from overseas

BEIJING – China will encourage foreign companies to invest more in domestic industries to further make good on the country’s commitment to open its economy, according to guidelines released on Thursday.

In a new version of the Foreign Direct Investment Industry Guidelines (2011), the Chinese government is encouraging foreign investors to put money into advanced manufacturing, the service industry and certain business concerned with energy conservation, advanced technology, renewable sources of energy, new materials and advanced-equipment manufacturing.

Government officials and experts said the new guidelines are in keeping with proposals contained in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), which seeks to lay the foundation for a more innovative and greener economy.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) issued the guidelines, which will replace a previous version of the rules that was published in 2007. They are expected to come into force on January 30.

Compared with the 2007 version, the new guidelines encourage foreign companies to invest in a greater number of industries and reduce the number of industries that are off limits to such investment.

“The new version indicates China’s strong commitment to opening its market wider,” said Wang Zhile, director of the ministry’s research center for transnational cooperation. “It’s absolutely a positive signal.”

In the new guidelines, the Chinese government will encourage foreign enterprises to invest in new technology and equipment for the textile, chemicals and machinery-manufacturing industries.

The guidelines also call for the encouragement of investment into nine service industries. Among them are those concerned with charging electric vehicles and swapping their batteries, protecting intellectual property rights, cleaning up offshore oil pollution and vocational training.

China will also allow foreign companies to invest in medical institutes and various other industries that were previously off limits to them.

Dirk Moens, secretary general of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said foreign investors are likely to take heed of the government’s investment guidelines.

This “will indeed facilitate decision-making for foreign investors thinking of coming to China”, Moens said.

Kong Linglong, director-general of the National Development and Reform Commission’s department of foreign capital and overseas investment, had similar thoughts.

“Looking at the changes in the new version, we can tell the way in which the Chinese government would like to transform its industrial structure,” Kong said.

“And another message is that China is now placing more value on the quality of foreign investments rather than their scale.”

The government will also prevent foreign companies from building or operating refineries that have the capacity to distill fewer than 200,000 barrels of crude oil a day. That is up from the previous limit of 160,000 barrels a day.

China, meanwhile, has removed industries from the list of those it encourages foreign companies to invest in. No longer part of that group are automakers, large coal-to-chemical operations and manufacturers of polycrystalline silicon.

“The restrictions generally apply to industries that have excessively large capacities and that pollute the environment,” said Zhang Xiaoji, senior researcher at State Council’s development research center.

“But they will probably be a source of their (foreign companies’) complaints about transparency in China’s market for foreign investment. To alleviate their concerns, China should try to provide detailed information about what will be restricted.”

China issued the first version of its guidelines governing foreign direct investment in 1995. They are now amended every four years.

China released a draft version of the new guidelines in early April, seeking the public’s suggestions and comments.

“We have made reasonable changes in response to foreign companies’ opinions,” Kong said. For instance, the draft version said foreign investors could take no more than a 50-percent stake in joint ventures that produce all of the chief components needed in new-energy vehicles, a proposal that led to heated discussions in the auto industry.

The final version changed the stipulation about “all chief components” to one that only concerns “fuel cell batteries”.

Giving a keynote speech in December at a celebration ceremony for the 10th anniversary of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, President Hu Jintao said China will continuously open its economy to the world. He said that is especially true for industries concerned with advanced manufacturing, strategic emerging industries, services, agriculture and modern culture.

In April, China issued a directive that encouraged more investment in the high-tech, renewable energy and service industries, and for more attention to be paid to the country’s western and central regions. The directive marked a turning point in China’s policies concerning foreign direct investment.

China is now the second-largest destination for such investment in the world and the largest among developing economies. In 2010, the value of foreign direct investment into China hit a record high, increasing to $105.74 billion, a rise of 17.4 percent from the year before. In 2009, it decreased by 2.6 percent.

From January to November, the value of China’s foreign direct investment increased by 13.15 percent from the same period the year before, reaching $103.77 billion.

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Syria: Where is President Obama?

Posted on Sunday, April 24, 2011by Elliott AbramsOn Friday, the Syrian regime killed another hundred peaceful protesters, and then fired at people attending their funerals on Saturday, killing yet another dozen.

What has been the Obama Administration’s response?  To toughen up its rhetoric a bit, but to do nothing.

On Friday, after an especially weak performance by the President’s press spokesman (who contrasted the terrible situation in Libya with what he apparently thought was a far better one in Syria), the White House issued a new statement from the President.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators,”  the statement said.  And, “We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens,” it concluded.  What’s wrong with that?

First, where is the President?  This statement carefully avoided using the word “I” and was handed out by the White House.  The President’s appearance on camera, delivering such words personally so that they can be carried into Syria on al Jazeera and YouTube, would be much more effective.  With hundreds now dead in the streets of Syria, it is past time for him to speak.

Second, the Friday statement continues to appeal to Assad: “We call on President Assad to change course now, and heed the calls of his own people.”  That might have been acceptable 300 deaths ago, but it is now absurd.  The President called on Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, a long-time American ally, to leave; why the reticence about Assad, a long-time American enemy?

Third, the White House statement is just words.  It does not promise, suggest, or announce any actions.  This Administration has spent two years engaging with the Assad regime and loosening U.S. sanctions on it.  “The World Trade Organization’s 153 members granted Syria observer status after the U.S. dropped its opposition in a sign the Obama administration is softening its stance toward the Middle Eastern nation,” Bloomberg reported a year ago, noting also that “President Barack Obama’s administration has already loosened export-license curbs on aircraft repairs for state-owned Syrian Arab Airways.” So this  Administration, having followed a foolish policy of engagement with this barbaric regime, has a special obligation to correct its course.  The first action should be recalling our ambassador to Syria, who should never have been given his recess appointment to the post last year.  Second, the United States should be calling immediately for special meetings of the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council, to bring additional focus on the murders of peaceful protesters in Syria and seek sanctions against the regime, in the hope that this attention will constrain its bloody hand.

As in Tunisia, as in Egypt, as in Libya and Bahrain, the President has been slow to react.  This is inexcusable in the face of the mounting death toll—and the very real gains for the United States if the vicious Assad regime falls.

Original Article

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