The European Parliament on Wednesday (3 February) adopted a number of recommendations – their red lines and blue lines – for the ongoing negotiations over the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).
Launched in 2013 by 23 WTO members (with the EU counting as one), and representing 70% of the international trade in services, the TiSA negotiations are seeking to reinforce international rules and open markets in the area of digital, financial and transport services, among others.
“The message is crystal clear. If the negotiators respect all our recommendations (blue lines and red lines), they will be engines for growth in Europe, sources of competitiveness for our firms and safety nets for European citizens,” declared Viviane Reding, the lead MEP, after the vote, held today during the plenary session.
The resolution was backed by 532 votes to 131, with 36 abstentions.
“I am proud to have gathered a large majority across the political spectrum with a view to drawing clear guidelines for the remaining negotiations,” Reding added. “TiSA is an opportunity for Europe to prosper within our borders and to be strong outside the EU.”
In a recent interview with EurActiv, Reding insisted that TiSA was not about opening EU markets, as much as making others’ less closed.
Current rules governing trade in services are “grossly outdated, as there was virtually no internet trade when the last deal was agreed back in 1995”, said MEP Jude Kirton-Darling, Socialists & Democrats co-ordinator for the report.
As the status quo in not an option, a reform is the only way forward, said the British MEP, stressing the need to maintain workers’ rights to public services.
“TiSA can help close loopholes that are currently used to abuse workers and consumers, but the Commission needs to get it right and make this clear in the upcoming negotiations. With today’s vote, we’re giving a new mandate to the Commission. If it fails to respect it, then the European Parliament will have to consider rejecting the final outcome, ” Kirton-Darling added.
The sector greeted the report. “The report gives a strong political support to the Commission negotiators, which will help the EU in getting a strong deal with its TiSA partners,” said European Services Forum Chairman Sir Thomas Harris. “The industry will continue to closely monitor the negotiations and hopes for an ambitious conclusion by end 2016,” he noted.
The vote builds upon the Parliament’s adoption last July of a resolution calling on the Commission to fully exclude current and future public services from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States, regardless of how they are provided or funded. The resolution on TiSA goes further by requesting the European Commission to introduce a “gold standard” clause to exclude public services from the scope of trade agreements irrespective of how they are supplied.
The “gold standard” clause would considerably strengthen the protection of quality, accessible and affordable public services in EU trade agreements. The European Commission should now commit to changing its approach to public services not only in TiSA, but also in TTIP and future trade agreements, urged a number of NGOs and trade unions.
David Martin MEP, S&D Spokesperson for international trade, added: "Services form the bedrock of the European economy, with 70% of Europeans employed in the service industry. This is reflected in our international trade where we have a trade surplus of 162.9 billion in services with our partners. A comprehensive and updated agreement on the trade in services could increase this further by opening our trading partners to increased competition."
"However, this should not become a free-for-all. We need to have rules governing trade to ensure that competition is fair and within set boundaries. We have secured strong language in this report to ensure that public services are fully exempt from the agreement and that workers' rights are safeguarded. It is essential that any agreement on TiSA does not damage the EU or Member States' ability to preserve and strengthen labour standards. The Commission must respect this position in its negotiations with our international partners."
The Greens criticised the resolution, which fails to properly highlight the major concerns with the negotiations. After the vote, Greens/EFA vice-president and trade spokesperson Ska Keller said: “The European Parliament has today missed an opportunity to show a yellow card to the European Commission [..]The resolution includes some positive elements, like the demand to clearly and unequivocally exclude all public services and services of general interest (like water and healthcare) from the scope of the negotiations. However, this doesn't mean anything as long as the European Commission ignores the Parliament´s demands.
Marietje Schaake MEP, ALDE Coordinator in INTA and Shadow rapporteur, commented today: "The old rulebook for international trade in services dates from 1995, before the proliferation of the internet. Nowadays, any small company can offer services abroad via a website. We need to make sure that these companies can actually enter the market in another country. That is especially important because it is predicted that most of the global growth the coming decennia will happen outside the EU. Accessing new markets is crucial for European small and medium companies."
"In the European Parliament's report we clearly state that the agreement must not compromise EU laws on data protection and that public services must be excluded. The European Commission has already given guarantees to that effect, but Parliament will hold them to those promises when it comes to ratifying TiSA. At the same time, we want to improve transparency and make sure that more texts are made public."
Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), commented: “It is good news for consumers that Members of the European Parliament are saying that trade deals must deliver for consumers and be more transparent. We expect the Commission to heed this call during negotiations to conclude a deal on trade in services.
“Today’s vote underlines that consumer protection measures must not be seen as obstacles to trade. TiSA – or any other trade deal – must bring concrete benefits to consumers, whilst safeguarding both present and future levels of protection. We are particularly pleased to see the Parliament pick up real consumer concerns, such as high telecom prices, lack of consumer redress or geoblocking practices. Such recommendations are crucial to make balanced trade deals that work for people.”
Negotiations for a Trade in Services Agreement, under way since April 2013, aim to establish global minimum requirements for trade in sectors such as financial, digital and transport services. Participants now include 23 WTO members, who together account for 70% of global trade in services.
The last major services agreement, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) was established by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Since then, the world has evolved dramatically from the result of technological advances, changing business practices, and deeper global integration.
The TiSA is expected to establish new market access commitments and universal rules that reflect 21st century trade.
- European Parliament: TiSA must protect EU firms abroad and public services at home, say MEPs