Uruguay Withdraws From TISA, Strikes A Symbolic Blow Against The Trade Deal Ratchet

from the who's-next? dept

Techdirt first mentioned the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) last year, when "The Really Good Friends of Services" -- the self-chosen name for about 20 members of the World Trade Organization -- could no longer keep their plans locked behind closed doors, and word started to spread. Essentially, TISA completes the unholy trinity of global trade agreements that also includes TPP and TAFTA/TTIP. Between the three of them, they sew up just about every aspect of trade in both goods and services -- the latter being TISA's particular focus. They share a common desire to liberalize trade as much as possible, and to prevent national governments from imposing constraints on corporate activity around the world.

One particularly blatant reflection of this desire is the inclusion of something called the "ratchet clause." As with "The Really Good Friends of Services," that's an official name, not something chosen by the opponents of TISA (although they could hardly have come up with anything more revealing.) Here's how the European Commission's TISA page explains it:

A ratchet clause in a trade agreement means a country cannot reintroduce a particular trade barrier that it had previously and unilaterally removed in an area where it had made a commitment.
In other words, the ratchet clause ensures that there is only one direction of travel -- towards greater deregulation, and greater loss of control by sovereign nations.

TISA is unusual for being honest about introducing a ratchet. But there's another, more subtle, kind of ratchet that acts on all major treaties. It means that once a country has joined the negotiations, it becomes increasingly hard to back out, whatever the growing reservations of its public once they find out what is being done in their name. Indeed, that one-way street is one of the most powerful features of trade agreements: corporations only need to get some coveted but controversial measure inserted in a treaty's text, and it will automatically cascade down to all the signatories, however much they -- or their people -- may dislike it. It's how things like anti-circumvention laws for DRM were brought in: once it was included in the WIPO Copyright Treaty, all signatories had to pass legislation implementing it, because they had "no choice", the treaty "forced" them to do it -- a convenient excuse for passing unpopular laws.

The trade ratchet is also why big treaties tend to get bigger: the more countries that join them, the greater the pressure on others to join too lest they are left out in the economic cold. And once in, they tend to stay in. TISA is already huge -- around 50 countries are participating -- so the pressure to join is proportionately intense, and the idea that a country already part of the negotiations might pull out of such "important" talks is similarly unthinkable. And yet that is precisely what Uruguay's Congress has just voted to do:

The ruling progressivist coalition Broad Front overwhelmingly decided to withdraw Uruguay from the negotiations on the supra-national trade-deal TISA (Trade in Services Agreement) in a vote on Saturday.
Inside US Trade today (behind a paywall, but currently visible on its home page) reports:
Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez has decided to withdraw his country from the negotiations for the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) following opposition from the center-left ruling coalition and national labor unions, and has ordered his foreign minister to formally notify other participants in the talks.
Clearly, the withdrawal of Uruguay will have almost no effect whatsoever on TISA itself: the major trading nations will continue their talks behind closed doors, agreeing more of the text that locks in their view of how trade in services should be freed from government controls. But Uruguay's move possesses a tremendous symbolic importance. It says that, yes, it is possible to withdraw from global negotiations, and that the apparently irreversible trade deal ratchet can actually be turned back. It sets an important precedent that other nations with growing doubts about TISA -- or perhaps TPP -- can look to and maybe even follow.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 10 Sep 2015 @ 12:53am

    Oh look, evidence of lying, what a surprise

    A ratchet clause in a trade agreement means a country cannot reintroduce a particular trade barrier that it had previously and unilaterally removed in an area where it had made a commitment.

    Directly contradicting statement by the various governments defending the 'trade' agreements by claiming that such agreements do not bar the government from making or changing their laws. With ratchet clauses in place, once a regulation has been removed during private negotiations, it doesn't matter how much outcry the public makes when they learn about it, it's never coming back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2015 @ 2:08am

    Uruguay... isnt that an Anti-Democratic Dictatorship ruled by a Neo-Nazi Gay Racist Pedophile? If not then it will be next week, thanks to your Very Friendly And Honest Media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DerekCurrie (profile), 10 Sep 2015 @ 2:46am

    Corporatocracy

    Corporatocracy - SOPA/PIPA
    Corporatocracy - ACTA
    Corporatocracy - TPP/TPPA
    Corporatocracy - TTIP/TAFTA
    Corporatocracy - TISA

    To hell with democracy. :-P

    This is Neo-Feudalism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2015 @ 7:53am

      Re: Corporatocracy

      You do know that there is no such thing as a democracy right?

      There is not a single nation on the planet that has survived it if ever really implemented. Why is it a dumb idea? Because it is 2 wolves and 1 lamb voting on what is going to be for lunch.

      The American system of government is the greatest on the face of the earth ever, but not even its own citizens know how it should work, thanks to public education efforts to prevent that AND because they don't give a shit following that!

      Of course this crap is going to happen, democracy or NOT!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2015 @ 9:53am

        Re: Re: Corporatocracy

        Don't know about other countries but the US constitution requires any treaty to be ratified by Congress; otherwise the US is not bound or obligated to that treaty. So there's still a chance the US won't participate even if they were part of the negotiations that produced the treaty.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          DerekCurrie (profile), 10 Sep 2015 @ 10:20am

          Re: Re: Re: Corporatocracy

          The US Congress already gave up their constitutional obligations of "Advice and Consent" regarding TPP when they approved 'Fast Track'. (US Constitution, Article II, Section 2). IOW: They broke from the US Constitution. Why was this done? So there would be NO discussion or debate regarding the final draft of TPP. All they now get is yes or a not vote, which is entirely unconstitutional. Why did the corporatocracy demand this illegal, traitorous decision by the US Congress? Because they want ALL of TPP enacted, not just bits and pieces, forcing renegotiation of the abomination.

          Summary: CRIME. USA: Criminal Nation is the goal. Let's be China. Except let the corporations be our overlords, instead of some bogus 'communist' party. The end result is the same: TOTALITARIANISM. Screw citizen's rights.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2015 @ 7:17am

    So a trade agreement puts in a clause that says you can't agree to take something out, take it out, then put it right back in place? I guess I'm failing to see the outrage in such a clause.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 10 Sep 2015 @ 5:35pm

      Re:

      The outrage comes from the fact that the removal of regulations is done without public approval, with those in the affected industries writing up the agreements, and the public only gets to see it too late to do anything about it.

      The regulations are removed without the public's involvement, and then should they object to what has occurred, they are told it's too late, the agreement means that there's nothing that can be done. That is where the outrage comes from.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John David Galt (profile), 10 Sep 2015 @ 3:06pm

    We should demand a vote.

    The EU countries and Switzerland always put treaties this important to a vote of the people (in addition to legislative approval, not instead of it). We should too, even though it will require constitutional change here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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