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Leaked negotiations from a key trade deal show radical plans to deregulate services in Australia, including aged care and childcare. By Philip Dorling.

WikiLeaks Exclusive: Secret core text from Trade in Services Agreement negotiations

Highly sensitive details of the little-known but extremely important Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) agreement, published tonight by WikiLeaks, reveal that the Australian government is at the forefront of a push for extensive international financial deregulation. 

WikiLeaks has published the secret draft “core text” of the TiSA negotiations – involving Australia, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the European Union – as well as draft chapters on domestic regulation, government procurement and cross border movement of persons engaged in trade in services.  WikiLeaks will shortly disclose further documents revealing the current state of negotiations on other issues, including financial services, electronic commerce and telecommunications. 

The leaked TiSA core text reveals the sweeping ambition of the agreement to liberalise trade in all services – banking, financial, e-commerce, professional consulting, transport, health and other human services – with implications for all levels of government defined as including “central, regional or local governments and authorities”. 

The leaked draft shows Australia supports a draft clause that recognises the right of TiSA parties “to regulate, and to introduce new regulations, on the supply of services within their territories in order to meet their public policy objectives”.

However, critics of the TiSA negotiations warn that the newly disclosed documents reveal a strongly deregulatory agenda that is fully supported by the Australian government.  

Dr Patricia Ranald, co-ordinator of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, said WikiLeaks' publication of the most recent negotiation texts confirmed the Australian government supports proposals that will “further encourage more commercialisation and foreign investment in all services, including human services such as aged care and childcare, and will limit the ability of future governments to regulate these services in the public interest. This will encourage the domination of giant global services companies in areas like childcare and aged care at the expense of public, local and not-for-profit services.”

The latest documents show Australian support for stronger limits on government regulation of licensing, qualifications and technical standards in all services, including human services such as childcare and aged care.

“This could limit future government regulation to improve staff qualifications, staffing levels and quality of care in those services,” Dr Ranald said. 

Together with the better-known Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, TiSA is subject to United States "fast-track" trade promotion authority legislation that was passed by the US Congress last month.

The leaked texts show the state of negotiations following the most recent round of TiSA talks, chaired by the European Union in Geneva from April 13 to 17.  Australia will chair the next round of negotiations from July 6 to 10.   

Questioned by Australian Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson in a senate estimates committee hearing in early June, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) denied the TiSA negotiations involved “a deregulation and privatisation agenda” but refused to be drawn on any details of the talks as “draft positioning negotiating texts … are kept confidential amongst negotiating parties by tradition”.

After examining the latest leaked draft texts, Whish-Wilson said it was “outrageous” to find that Australia is opposing inclusion of basic financial regulation standards such as tax avoidance and prudential measures in TiSA, including measures that were included in the recent agreement on tax avoidance by the G20 countries. 

“Australia seems happy to sign up to binding agreements that lock in corporate profits, but oppose similar agreements that serve the public interest,” Whish-Wilson said. 

The leaked core text indicates that agreement has been reached on a clause that provides TiSA parties “shall not maintain … unless otherwise specified … limitations on the participation of foreign capital in terms of maximum percentage limit on foreign shareholding or the total value of individual or aggregate foreign investment”. 

While it is understood that the Australian government has indicated a desire to obtain a ''carve-out'' for its ''four pillars'' banking policy, preventing the big four banks from merging, as well as legislation that limits foreign shareholdings in Australian financial sector companies to 15 per cent, it is unclear whether this will be accepted as part of a final TiSA deal.

“This agreement puts long-held financial regulation in Australia at risk, including the ‘four pillars’ policy,” Whish-Wilson said.  “It is incredibly dangerous that such critical public policy aspects are being discussed behind closed doors without any public consultation or scrutiny.”

Under the draft agreement, foreign financial institutions would be allowed to bring “temporary” workers into Australia, including computer, telecommunications, actuarial and legal specialists. “Temporary” is not yet defined, with proposals ranging from 90 days to up to a year. 

Queensland University of Technology professor of intellectual property and innovation law Matthew Rimmer said TiSA had “a huge potential footprint – given the number of countries involved in the negotiations”.

“The Productivity Commission has recently complained that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has failed to engage in a rigorous, open and transparent scrutiny of trade deals like TiSA,” Dr Rimmer said.  “WikiLeaks has shed some much needed sunlight on TiSA.”

Trade Minister Andrew Robb insists TiSA will "strengthen job-creating services".  Last year he attacked an earlier WikiLeaks publication of leaked TiSA documents as part of a “reprehensible campaign being waged by anti-trade groups” to undermine trade liberalisation.

A DFAT spokesperson said the TiSA negotiations are making “very good progress” and that as chair of the next round of talks Australia will be seeking to advance to the financial services, telecommunications, e-commerce, temporary entry and domestic regulation chapters of the agreement. 

Australia will also chair a “stocktake” of the negotiations, where TiSA negotiators will assess progress over the past two years and “chart a course towards conclusion”.

The latest leaked draft TiSA texts can be found at www.wikileaks.org.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 1, 2015 as "WikiLeaks Exclusive: Secret core text from Trade in Services Agreement negotiations". Subscribe here.

Philip Dorling
is a journalist and UNSW visiting fellow in the school of humanities and social sciences at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

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