Trade in Services Agreement: a threat looming on the horizon

The Pirate Party renews its calls for greater transparency and participation in treaty negotiation, following the latest leaked draft of the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) that shows the agreement is likely to impose anti-privacy and anti-freedom of speech obligations upon Australia[1]. These provisions would benefit large multinational corporations and governments at the cost of the rights of the citizens, and are being negotiated behind closed doors.

“Democracy is under threat, not from terrorism or rising global tensions, but from secretly negotiated treaties like the Trade in Services Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Simon Frew, Deputy President of the Pirate Party. “Provisions too severe to be proposed domestically for fear of being summarily booted from office are being included in treaty negotiations to be swallowed as a bitter pill along with what might otherwise be sensible proposals. TISA is the latest in a long line of secret treaties that have adopted this strategy, and must be opposed as vigorously as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement before it.”

“One of the most concerning provisions of TISA is for the ‘free-flow of information,’ which is aimed at preventing countries from passing domestic legislation to protect the private information of their citizens from sharing and analysis. The collection and sharing of private data is not a cut and dried issue: it is information about our lives. These provisions must be debated in the open, lest the interests of private citizens be ignored to serve the interests of so-called ‘big data’ companies like Google and Facebook,” Mr Frew continued.

Further measures in TISA defined a broad exception to net neutrality, potentially opening the door to a two-tiered Internet in which access to websites is prioritised based on how much those websites pay — Internet service providers could throttle access to competing services in favour of their own. The leaked documents also appear to prohibit the enactment of any free or open software mandates, which would force Australia and others to “choose” to pay for commercial software rather than allowing them to take advantage of free and open source software.

TISA is one of three trade treaties, along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which may be fast-tracked through the US Congress with little oversight and brought to bear on affected countries with little recourse by those countries from that point.

“The fast-tracking mechanism employed by the United States’ State Department is essentially a means by which the American bureaucracy is able to force their wishes not just into law in their own country, but also into others with almost no scrutiny and absolutely no chance to balance those aims against other factors, such as human rights,” said Pirate Party Treasurer Ben McGinnes.

“As the UN expert Alfred de Zayas said last month,” Mr. McGinnes continued, referring to the United Nations’ Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order[2], “the use of secret negotiations and the fast-tracking process are in direct opposition to existing obligations from ratified treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”[3]

Mr Frew concluded: “TISA is merely the latest example of democracy being subverted through treaty negotiations. The practice of allowing bureaucrats to clandestinely negotiate away our freedoms and our sovereignty is increasingly abused and is producing unsatisfactory yet binding results. Public scrutiny and consultation is a must.”