WASHINGTON — The U.S. and European Union are in talks over a new trade deal that could give shipping lines greater bargaining power over port services and give multimodal operators priority to tap inland freight connections, according to documents shared Wednesday by Wikileaks.
The whistleblower website announced it had unearthed a trove of secret documents that shed light on closed-door trade negotiations between the U.S. and bevy of World Trade Organization countries. What is now being called the “largest leak of secret trade negotiations in history” has proven to be added fodder for those who oppose a number of international trade deals the White House is currently considering, as well as new legislation to “fast track” those deals through Congress.
The 17 different documents released by Wikileaks detail the behind-the-scenes negotiations for a global trade deal known as the Trade in Services Agreement. The agreement between the U.S., EU and over 20 WTO members would ease restrictions on the worldwide trade of services such as banking, healthcare and transport — services which now make up nearly 80 percent of U.S. and EU economies.
According to the Wikileaks, TISA would take a major step towards deregulating financial industries and could impact almost any law regulating local and domestic maritime and air traffic so long as traded service is involved.
The disclosure has added fuel to the fire of labor unions in the U.S. and elsewhere, who have been resolutely opposed to TISA among of slew of other international trade agreements now under consideration.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation, a confederation of roughly 700 unions in the transportation sector, claim the documents reveal strong support for consolidating power in big transport industry players while casting aside public interest, jobs and a free forum for workers.
According to the federation, the TISA deal now under negotiation will only “enhance the bargaining power of major shipping lines over port services and give global port operators further consolidated power.”
Moreover, it will also “allow multimodal transport operators unfettered access to and rights to supply road, rail or inland waterways transport services, generally public infrastructure — and enable them to fast-track their goods through ports.”
But the documents released this week have far-reaching implications for more than just the TISA deal.
TISA is part of a trio of trade deals currently in the works known as the “T-treaty trinity,” which includes TISA’s better-known cousins the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
While it is standard procedure for trade deal negotiations to remain confidential, until the deals are ratified at least, all three trade deals have aroused suspicion in countries on either side of the Pacific and Atlantic.
In the U.S., the deals have even isolated President Obama from many in his own party.
In recent months, Democrats have attempted to stonewall the administration's push to renew trade promotion authority legislation which would allow the president to fast track trade deals like TISA, TPP and TTIP through Congress.
So-called “fast-track” authority would give the U.S. president the power to approve international trade agreements that cannot be changed by U.S. lawmakers. Democratic efforts in the Senate to kill the bill failed, however, and the bill was passed by the Senate last month and should be taken up in the House of Representatives in a matter of days.
Top U.S. and European officials have not said if the Wikileaks documents are genuine and have repeatedly denied assertions that the trade deals now under negotiation could impact domestic or local laws.
However, the Wikileaks documents suggest just that. According to the leaked documents, the World Trade Organization tribunals could be expanded under TISA and that such tribunals could impact local laws in countries around the world.
It’s not an entirely foreign concept. Just last year, a WTO tribunal threatened sanctions against the U.S. if the country did not amend regulations that require detailed sourcing information on meat products.
During a Wednesday briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he doubted the Wikileaks documents would amount to much, as neither TPP nor TISA nor TTIP have been finalized.
"Our reaction is just simply that there is no TPP agreement right now. When we have one, it will be made public," Earnest said. "The president continues to be confident that if we're able to reach an agreement, it will be consistent with the TPA legislation that has already passed the Senate and hopefully will soon pass the House."
Wikileaks has announced it will be offering a $100,000 bounty for the remaining chapters of the TPP. The whistleblowing platform has previously leaked TPP chapters, including sections on intellectual property rights, the environment and investment. Wikileaks has called the chapters that still remain missing “America’s most-wanted secret.”