TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Sept15/01)
10 September 2015
Third World Network

Dear friends and colleagues,

On 5 September 2015 a very large majority of the Frente Amplio, the governing political coalition in Uruguay voted against continuing to be part of the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) negotiations taking place in Geneva.

These plurilateral negotiations are taking part outside the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its General Agreement on Services (GATS) and have generated concerns over the adverse impacts of the type of services liberalization pushed for by developed countries led by the United States, the European Union and Australia.

There were 117 votes in favour of leaving the negotiations and only 22 against it. As a result, Uruguay President Tabar้ Vแzquez decided on 7 September, to abandon the negotiations.

Prior to the vote, each ministry was asked to analyse the impact of TiSA on the country’s development policies within its purview.

We are pleased to share with you an article (in English and Spanish) by Roberto Bissio, Director of the Third World Institute based in Montevideo, Uruguay, on this significant decision. An earlier version of the article was published in the south-north development monitor SUNS #8091.

With best wishes,
Third World Network

An earlier version of this article was first published in south-north development monitor SUNS #8091

Uruguay abandons TiSA

Montevideo, 8 September (Roberto Bissio) – Just a week before the deadline for submitting national offers on liberalization of services sectors under the on-going “secret” talks for a “Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), Uruguay President Tabar้ Vแzquez decided on Monday, 7 September, to abandon the plurilateral negotiations and has directed the government to comply.

While Uruguay is the first participant in the TiSA talks to abandon the on-going negotiations, at an earlier stage when the plurilateral talks idea was broached in 2012 by the so-called “Really Good Friends of Services”, Singapore was part of this group, but soon as the sponsors (Australia, the United States and the European Union) outlined their views and demands, Singapore withdrew.

At that initial stage, the proposal was for an “International Services Agreement (ISA)”, to be negotiated plurilaterally, and lodged in the World Trade Organization as an Annex IV agreement.

[See Chakravarthi Raghavan (2014), ‘The Third World in the Third Millennium CE, Vol. 2: The WTO - Towards Multilateral Trade or Global Corporatism’, TWN Penang, pages 367-368. For analysis of TiSA talks and implications for the WTO Multilateral Trading System, see Raghavan (2015) SUNS, #8066 and 8067 available here.]

The Uruguay President’s action follows a decision taken on Saturday (5 September) by a very large majority of the Frente Amplio, the governing leftist political coalition, against Uruguay continuing to be part of the TiSA negotiations taking place in Geneva but outside the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its General Agreement on Services (GATS). A vast majority of the Frento Amplio voted against Uruguay’s participation in the TiSA talks.

The Frente Amplio’s decision considered that it is "inconvenient" for Uruguay to keep negotiating TiSA "taking into account our vision on an integral development of the Nation", and received 117 votes in favour of leaving the negotiations and only 22 against it.

TiSA is widely recognised as an attempt to ultimately assert pressure on other countries to sign on to an agreement the nature of which has not been accepted within the WTO multilateral trading system and its agreements and rules. It was initiated by the United States and Australia with the European Union as a key player as well.

With the withdrawal of Uruguay from the negotiations, the remaining countries are Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Hong Kong China, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.

Noticeably absent are the majority of developing countries especially the larger ones.

The factions in Frente Amplio, led by Economy minister Danilo Astori and Foreign minister Rodolfo Nin were the only significant members of the coalition to support TiSA. The Movement for People's Participation led by former president Jos้ Mujica voted against, even though Mujica was still president when Uruguay joined those negotiations last February.

When the Frente Amplio formally took a vote against TiSA, the right wing parliamentary opposition offered their votes to build an ad hoc majority in favour of the Agreement and thus divide the governing coalition.

However, Tourism minister Lilian Kechichian, acting as spokewoman for the Council of Ministers announced on Monday that "the President respects the majority and has asked the foreign minister to implement it".

The governing coalition studied the issue over four months and before making its decision the coalition's governing council demanded from all ministries an analysis on how the opening up of services would affect their agendas and what items they would want to include in the "negative list" of economic sectors not to be opened.

A "negative list" approach means that all sectors are liberalized except fo those to be excluded. A "positive list" approach liberalizes only those sectors or parts of a sector that are included in a predetermined list and usually also allows for condiitons on such liberalization.

The local newspaper "La Diaria" had access to the summary of ministerial analyses presented to the Frente Amplio council by its chair, Daniel Marsiglia. According to the report in “La Diaria”, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security considers that some of the TiSA requirements would contradict the norms of the International Labour Organization (ILO) that Uruguay has signed up to and are therefore to be considered as national law.

The Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mines informed the council of the governing coalition that the proposed TiSA would imply risks to the telecommunication policies of Uruguay. Since a privatization law was repealed by referendum in 1992 the telephone company (fixed lines), the generation and distribution of electricity, the only oil refinery of the country and all water and sanitation are run by state-owned companies. Further, the state-owned banks, even when competing with private national and international banks, hold three quarters of the deposits, while the state-owned insurance company controls around half of the market.

Meanwhile the state-owned mobile cell phone company has double the number of subscribers compared to the two competing foreign-owned cell phone corporations. The telecommunication policy that TiSA would challenge has allowed Uruguay to have a phone network that is 100% digitalized. All towns and schools are linked via optic fiber and all children of school age are provided with free access to the Internet, as part of the "one laptop per child" policy that Vแzquez himself started in his previous presidency. (Vแzquez was president before Mujica. Both were elected by the Frente Amplio coalition of progressive parties and movements.)

The Ministry of Agriculture rejected the liberalization of some services it provides, in particular the identification and tracking of cattle which allows Uruguay to export meat at higher prices than its neighbors. The Ministry of Tourism, overseeing an area that accounts for the majority of the exports of services of the country reported that no benefits would be obtained from TiSA in its area, as tourism is already liberalized. The Health Ministry reported that it is not in a condition to produce a "negative list" due to the rapidly changing nature of the health services that could make such a list obsolete in a short time.

On the other hand, the service agreement was positively reviewed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that argued that the presence of Uruguayan negotiators in the TiSA-related meetings would help them "gain experience" while the Ministry of Economy and Finances highlighted that TiSA would bring benefits to the local software producers and professional services (such as lawyers and accountants).

Interestingly, when the Frente Amplio convened a public discussion, the chair of the Uruguayan Chamber of Software expressed his wish that TiSA would help them open up markets by allowing their technicians to travel abroad more freely, but yet demanded that the government procurement system continues to favour offers from national companies over those from foreign corporations. It became clear during the debate that this sector, which accounts for at most two percent of the total national income, was ill-informed.

Mode IV provision of services (that require the movement of natural persons abroad to supply a service as provided under the WTO GATS has a "positive list" approach) are excluded from TiSA at the instance of the United States. In the US, the EU and Australia, the movement of natural persons for supply of services is governed by visa requirements of immigration policies and the application of ‘needs test’. Thus the Uruguay software industry would not have gotten from TiSA the access it wants and, at the same time risked losing the continuation of government support if the agreement they had lobbied for were to be accepted by Uruguay.

With the decisive vote, socialist parliamentarian Roberto Chiazzaro highlighted that it is the first time that TiSA is discussed widely and openly in any country and "it is remarkable how much people got informed, participated and discussed and Tabar้ (President Vแzquez) has to be praised for having heard the people and his political organization before taking a decision".

(*Roberto Bissio is Director of the Third World Institute based in Montevideo, Uruguay, and contributed this report.)

Una versi๓n anterior de este artํculo fue publicada por primera vez en south-north development monitor SUNS #8091

Uruguay abandona al TiSA

Montevideo, 9 Septiembre (Roberto Bissio) – Justo una semana antes de la fecha lํmite para la presentaci๓n de ofertas nacionales de liberalizaci๓n de servicios,  el lunes 7 de septiembre el presidente uruguayo Tabar้ Vแzquez decidi๓ abandonar las negociaciones plurilaterales cuasi-secretas para un Acuerdo sobre Comercio de Servicios (TISA, por su sigla en ingl้s).

Uruguay es el primero de los participantes en las conversaciones del TiSA en abandonar las negociaciones. En una fase anterior, cuando las conversaciones plurilaterales sobre servicios fueron iniciadas en 2012 por los llamados "Really Good Friends", Singapur era parte de este grupo, pero en cuanto los patrocinadores (Australia, Estados Unidos y la Uni๓n Europea) expusieron sus opiniones y demandas, Singapur se retir๓.

En esa etapa inicial, la propuesta era para un "Acuerdo de Servicios Internacionales (ISA)", que se negociarํa plurilateralmente y se incorporarํa en la Organizaci๓n Mundial del Comercio como un acuerdo amparado en el Anexo IV. Las negociaciones TiSA tienen lugar en Ginebra, pero fuera del marco de la Organizaci๓n Mundial del Comercio (OMC) y su Acuerdo General sobre Servicios (AGCS).

[Ver Chakravarthi Raghavan (2014), "The Third World in the Third Millennium CE, Vol. 2: The WTO - Towards Multilateral Trade or Global Corporatism”, TWN Penang, pแginas 367-368. Por un anแlisis de las conversaciones de TISA y consecuencias para el sistema multilateral de comercio de la OMC, consulte Raghavan (2015) SUNS, # 8066 y 8067 disponibles aquํ.]

Este anuncio del presidente uruguayo es consecuencia de la decisi๓n tomada el sแbado 5 de septiembre, por una muy amplia mayorํa del Frente Amplio, la coalici๓n de izquierda que gobierna en Uruguay, contraria a que el paํs continue en este proceso.  La decisi๓n del Frente Amplio considera que el TiSA es "inconveniente" para Uruguay "teniendo en cuenta nuestra visi๓n de un desarrollo integral de la Naci๓n", y recibi๓ 117 votos a favor de dejar las negociaciones y s๓lo 22 en contra.

El TiSA es ampliamente reconocido como un intento por presionar a otros paํses a firmar un acuerdo sobre servicios mแs liberalizador que lo aceptado en el sistema de comercio multilateral de la OMC y sus acuerdos y reglas. Fue iniciado por los Estados Unidos y Australia con la Uni๓n Europea como un actor clave tambi้n.

Con la retirada de Uruguay de las negociaciones, los paํses que continuan son Australia, Canadแ, Chile, China-Taipei (Taiwan), Colombia, Costa Rica, Estados Unidos, Hong Kong, Islandia, Israel, Jap๓n, Liechtenstein, Mauricio, M้xico, Nueva Zelanda, Noruega, Pakistแn, Panamแ, Paraguay, Per๚, Rep๚blica de Corea, Suiza, Turquํa y la Uni๓n Europea. Es notoria la ausencia de la mayorํa de los paํses en desarrollo, especialmente los mแs grandes.

Las facciones del Frente Amplio, encabezadas por el ministro de Economํa, Danilo Astori y el ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Rodolfo Nin fueron los ๚nicos miembros significativos de la coalici๓n que apoyaron al TiSA. El Movimiento de Participaci๓n Popular encabezado por el ex presidente Jos้ Mujica vot๓ en contra, a pesar de que Mujica era todavํa presidente cuando Uruguay se uni๓ a esas negociaciones en febrero pasado.

Cuando el Frente Amplio formalmente vot๓ contra el TISA, la oposici๓n parlamentaria de derecha ofreci๓ sus votos al presidente para construir una mayorํa especial en favor del Acuerdo y asํ dividir la coalici๓n de gobierno.

Sin embargo, la ministra de Turismo Lilian Kechichian, actuando como vocera del Consejo de Ministros anunci๓ el lunes que "el Presidente respeta la mayorํa y ha pedido al ministro de Relaciones Exteriores que comunique esta decisi๓n" a los otros paํses.

La coalici๓n gobernante estudi๓ el tema durante cuatro meses y antes de tomar su decisi๓n de consejo de gobierno de la coalici๓n pidi๓ a todos los ministerios un anแlisis de c๓mo la apertura de los servicios afectarํa sus agendas y los elementos que qusieran incluir en la "lista negativa" de servicios que no se liberalizarํan.

Un enfoque de "lista negativa" significa que todos los sectores se liberalizan salvo aquellos explํcitamente excluidos. Un enfoque de "lista positiva" liberaliza ๚nicamente aquellos sectores o partes de un sector que se incluyen en una lista predeterminada y por lo general tambi้n permite poner condiciones en esta liberalizaci๓n.

El peri๓dico local "La Diaria" public๓ un resumen de los anแisis ministeriales presentado al plenario del Frente Amplio por su presidente, Daniel Marsiglia. Seg๚n el informe de "La Diaria", el Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social considera que algunos de los requisitos TiSA estarํa en contradicci๓n con las normas de la Organizaci๓n Internacional del Trabajo (OIT) que Uruguay ha firmado y, por tanto, deben considerarse como ley nacional.

El Ministerio de Industria, Energํa y Minas inform๓ al consejo de la coalici๓n de gobierno que el TiSA implicarํa riesgos para las polํticas de telecomunicaciones de Uruguay. Desde que la ley de privatizaci๓n fue derogada por refer้ndum en 1992, la compa๑ํa telef๓nica (lํneas fijas), la generaci๓n y distribuci๓n de energํa el้ctrica, la ๚nica refinerํa de petr๓leo del paํs y toda el agua y el saneamiento estแn a cargo de empresas de propiedad estatal en Uruguay. Ademแs, los bancos de propiedad estatal, si bien compiten con los bancos privados nacionales e internacionales, tienen tres cuartas partes de los dep๓sitos, mientras que la compa๑ํa de seguros de propiedad estatal controla alrededor de la mitad del mercado.

Mientras tanto, la empresa de telefonํa celular m๓vil estatal tiene el doble de suscriptores que sus dos competidores extranjeros juntos. La polํtica de telecomunicaciones que TISA desafiarํa ha permitido que Uruguay tenga una red de telefonํa que es 100% digitalizada. Todos los xentros poblados y todas las escuelas estแn conectadas a trav้s de fibra ๓ptica y todos los ni๑os en edad escolar cuentan con acceso gratuito a Internet, como parte de la polํtica de "una computadora por ni๑o" que Vแzquez comenz๓ en su presidencia anterior. (Vแzquez fue presidente antes de Mujica. Ambos fueron elegidos por la coalici๓n Frente Amplio de partidos y movimientos progresistas.)

El Ministerio de Agricultura rechaz๓ la liberalizaci๓n de algunos servicios que presta, en particular, la identificaci๓n y seguimiento de ganado (“trazabilidad”) que permite a Uruguay exportar carne a precios mแs altos que los de sus vecinos. El Ministerio de Turismo, cuya แrea representa la mayor parte de las exportaciones de servicios del paํs, inform๓ que no hay beneficios posibles del TiSA en su sector, ya que el turismo ya estแ liberalizado. El Ministerio de Salud inform๓ que no estแ en condiciones de producir una "lista negativa" debido a la naturaleza cambiante de los servicios de salud que podrํan volver obsoleta una lista de este tipo en poco tiempo.

Por otra parte, el acuerdo de servicios recibi๓ comentarios favorables del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, que argument๓ que la presencia de los negociadores uruguayos en las reuniones del TISA les ayudarํa a "adquirir experiencia", mientras que el Ministerio de Economํa y Finanzas destac๓ que el TISA traerํa beneficios a los productores locales de software y servicios profesionales (como abogados y contadores).

Cuando el Frente Amplio convoc๓ a una discusi๓n p๚blica, el presidente de la Cแmara de Software de Uruguay expres๓ su esperanza de que el TISA les ayudarํa a abrir los mercados al permitir a sus t้cnicos viajar al extranjero con mแs libertad, pero sin embargo reclam๓ que el sistema de contrataci๓n p๚blica continue favoreciendo las ofertas de empresas nacionales sobre las de empresas extranjeras. Se hizo evidente durante el debate que este sector, que representa a lo sumo el dos por ciento del ingreso nacional total, estaba mal informado.

El Modo IV de prestaci๓n de servicios (o sea aquellos que requieren el movimiento de personas fํsicas al extranjero para prestar un servicio) estแ excluido del TiSA a instancias de los Estados Unidos. En los EE.UU, la Uni๓n Europea y Australia, el movimiento de personas fํsicas para la prestaci๓n de servicios se rige por los requisitos de visado de sus polํticas de inmigraci๓n que aplican un "test de necesidad”. Asํ, la industria del software uruguaya no conseguirํa del TiSA el acceso que desea para sus t้cnicos y, al mismo tiempo, se arriesga a perder la continuaci๓n del apoyo del gobierno si el Acuerdo al que defienden hubiera sido aprobado.

Tras la decisi๓n presidencial, el diputado socialista Roberto Chiazzaro destac๓ que es la primera vez que el TiSA se discuti๓ amplia y abiertamente en cualquier paํs y que "es sorprendente lo mucho que la gente se inform๓, particip๓ y discuti๓. Tabar้ (el presidente Vแzquez) tiene que ser reconocido por haber escuchado a la gente y a su organizaci๓n polํtica antes de tomar una decisi๓n".

(* Roberto Bissio es Director del Instituto del Tercer Mundo con sede en Montevideo, Uruguay)