On the other side of the Atlantic, British Invisibles (BI), a UK business coalition, played an active role in forming and running national and European business coalitions. BI was founded in the late 1960s to promote UK financial businesses around the world. It sought liberalization of trade in services, particularly financial and related services—including legal, accountancy, consultancy and shipping—’invisibles’ being a technical term for services, investment income and transfers.
In 2001 BI changed its name to International Financial Services, London (IFSL). The group must have decided that the name British Invisibles had unfortunate connotations of secrecy, perhaps apt though, considering its behind-the-scenes lobbying and networking activities. IFSL seeks to identify and remove barriers to its members operating in overseas markets and to ‘ensure that the objectives and priorities of the UK-based industry are high on the agenda during the forthcoming WTO negotiations.’
Unlike the American Coalition of Service Industries (CSI), British Invisibles formalized its access to key government bureaucrats through a committee structure that included sympathetic government officials from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), HM Treasury, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority (FSA). This Liberalisation of Trade in Services (LOTIS) committee began meeting in the early 1980s with the aim of influencing the GATT negotiations. It became the main lobbying organization for the UK financial services industry.
Because of the hybrid business/government nature of the LOTIS committee, financial corporations were privy to government information that was not publicly available, including internal EU papers and draft submissions to the WTO from other nations. They also had high level access to government negotiators and WTO officials. For example when the chair of a later LOTIS committee gave evidence at the House of Lords European Committee he had had to explain ‘why it was acceptable and right for the private sector to give its views direct to the Commission rather than through member state governments.’
This ‘corporate state alliance’ has been criticized by Erik Wesselius of GATS Watch because ‘the distinction between public and private has become completely blurred’ and the LOTIS meetings where government officials and business executives discuss WTO negotiation strategies in private gives the ‘UK financial services industry an unjustified control over large parts of the UK trade policy agenda… Privileged cooperative arrangements between business and government as embodied in IFSL/LOTIS do not belong in a truly democratic policy-making process’.
In 1999, British Invisibles followed the Financial Leaders Group (FLG) and the European Services Forum (ESF) by creating a High Level LOTIS group composed of around 15 heads of companies, including European heads of US service companies Morgan Stanley and PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC). Senior government officials also attend meetings of the High-Level LOTIS Group. The inaugural chair was none other than the ubiquitous Andrew Buxton (pictured), chair of both FLG and ESF. He was succeeded by Leon Brittan in 2001 when Brittan was no longer EU Trade Commissioner.