Secret trade negotiations undermine public services: study

April 28, 2014

OTTAWA—A proposed new trade agreement could undermine public services by locking in privatization, says a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). The study examines the little-known Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) quietly being negotiated in Geneva by a group of 23 governments, including Canada.

In The Trade and Services Agreement versus Public Services, researchers Scott Sinclair of CCPA and Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood from the Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University, highlight how the TISA would make it difficult or even impossible for future governments to restore public services, including those instances where private service delivery has failed.

“While the TISA does not force governments to privatize public services, the TISA’s ‘standstill’ and ‘ratchet’ clauses would lock in existing and future privatization of public services,” said lead author Sinclair.

For example, when faced with poor service by private water companies, local governments around the world have had the ability to “re-municipalize” water services, bringing these formerly privatized services back into the public sector. Under the TISA, this practice would be prohibited.

The TISA talks also touch on vital public policy issues that have little or nothing to do with international trade.

  • Despite disturbing revelations about spying and privacy, corporate interests are seeking to weaken national controls that protect data privacy.
  • Even after the 2008 global financial crisis, the TISA includes talks to further liberalize financial markets.
  • The TISA also promotes the temporary movement of professionals and workers, and in committed sectors would eliminate the legal onus on employers to hire local workers if they are available.

In calling for more public access and accountability in these treaty negotiations, Sinclair said, “These issues are too important to be left to trade negotiators to decide behind closed doors. It is a basic tenet of democracies that governments do not make laws and regulations in secret.”


The report was commissioned by Public Services International, a global trade union federation representing 20 million public sector workers in 154 countries. It is available on the CCPA website at

For more information contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Senior Communications Officer, at 613-563-1341 x306 or 613-266-9491.