The details are out on the the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and critics say the trade deal is worse than they feared. The TPP’s full text was released Thursday, weeks after the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations – a group representing 40 percent of the world’s economy – reached an agreement. Activists around the world have opposed the TPP, warning it will benefit corporations at the expense of health, the environment, free speech and labor rights. Congress now has 90 days to review the TPP before President Obama can ask for an up-or-down vote. We are joined by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and a leading TPP critic.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the biggest and most secretive trade deals in history has finally been revealed in full – and critics say it’s even worse than they thought. On Thursday, the complete text of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership was released after years of closely guarded talks. The TPP was agreed to last month between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. The group represents 40 percent of the world’s economy. It will set common standards in areas including employment, food safety, the Internet, corporate governance and intellectual property. It also establishes new tribunals under which corporations can sue governments for laws that affect their profits. The legal mechanism is called the investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS. Activists around the world have opposed the TPP, warning it will benefit corporations at the expense of public health, the environment, free speech and labor rights.
AMY GOODMAN: With the fine print now disclosed, the TPP’s opponents say their worst fears have been confirmed. In a statement, Public Citizen said, quote, “The text shows that the TPP would offshore more American jobs, lower our wages, flood us with unsafe imported food and expose our laws to attack in foreign tribunals.”
On Thursday, the White House notified Congress it intends to ratify the TPP, starting a 90-day review period before President Obama can seek final approval. The Senate has granted Obama the authority to fast-track the TPP and present it to Congress for a yes-or-no vote with no amendments allowed. Lawmakers will face heavy lobbying from wealthy TPP backers, but grassroots opposition could play a role, too. In one sign that public opinion could be influencing the political class, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came out against the TPP last month. It was a major reversal for Clinton, who helped push the TPP during her time as secretary of state. Clinton’s rival candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has long opposed the TPP.
For more, we’re joined by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, leading TPP critic.
Welcome to Democracy Now! So the TPP is out. What’s in the fine print? Lori, what surprised you most? What are you most concerned about?
LORI WALLACH: Well, it was worse than we expected, and we knew quite a bit, based on leaks and on admissions from negotiators, mainly from other countries. There are a couple of places where I was shocked to see that actually the TPP actually rolls back what was extremely modest progress, that congressional Democrats had forced on President Bush for his last set of agreements – three specific things.
One, in the area of access to affordable medicines, the TPP’s rules on patents, actually both for developing countries but also for us, would roll back that initial reform and make medicine more expensive in pretty dramatic ways.
Number two, the investor-state dispute resolution system is actually expanded out, in ways we should discuss, so that more kinds of laws can be attacked, and many more companies will be able to attack US laws.
And then the third thing that was kind of a shocker is there is an expansion of the kind of attacks you can have on food safety, on imported food safety, which is really serious, because Malaysia and Vietnam, two of the TPP countries, are amongst the major importers of seafood and shrimp – a lot of their stuff gets stopped now for being unsafe – but this agreement would give them new rights to basically attack our stopping their stuff for food safety purposes and flood us with unsafe imports.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lori, on that food safety issue, what’s the potential effect on the United States, which obviously has a long-term and pretty well-developed food safety system?
LORI WALLACH: Well, I think it’s very telling that yesterday the agribusiness industry was the only major industry that was extremely enthusiastic when the text came out. And they said, “Wow, we got these great ways to stop these food safety attacks on our imports!” Well, they’re thinking of trying to jam our GMO foods into other countries. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, which means the same rules could mean that imports, particularly of – I don’t know how to put this, because people are probably having breakfast, but in Vietnam particularly, there’s a huge issue of farmed shrimp being farmed in pools that, among other things, are fertilized with human poop – can’t put it another way – and then lots of antibiotics are poured into the ponds before the harvest to deal with the diseases that come from the human waste. So we’ve got some really unsafe products. Right now we only inspect a small percentage. But we over-inspect for countries like Vietnam because we know there are big problems. One of the new rules I was surprised to see is you can challenge the inspection, both the way you sample, how you decide to pick out a particular country because they have problems, but also you have limits on how you can do testing, how long you can hold the product. I mean, practically, what does it mean? The TPP could mean poisonous food, that you can’t label from what country it comes from, on your kids’ plates. It could mean major public health issues.
AMY GOODMAN: WhiteHouse.gov has a list of people and organizations who support the TPP. One example is the World Wildlife Fund, which is quoted as saying, “No major trade agreement before this one has gone so far to address growing pressures on natural resources like overexploited fish, wildlife and forests.” Another supporter is the National Small Business Association, which is quoted as saying, “The TPP appears to be a positive step for small firms, particularly the inclusion of a chapter dedicated solely to small- and medium-sized enterprises.” And the Council on Foreign Relations is quoted as saying, “The TPP deal has the potential to reshape an important part of the US economy, strengthen American diplomacy, and launch a new generation of international economic cooperation.” What say you, Lori Wallach?
LORI WALLACH: Well, World Wildlife Fund is out there pretty much by themselves, with a couple of other conservation groups. The big news yesterday was the NRDC, one of the country’s biggest environmental groups – and an environmental group that supported NAFTA – came out against TPP, joining the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etc., etc. There are some conservation groups that look at animal issues, who aren’t as familiar with trade agreements, who the White House has persuaded that this one provision about shark finning or this provision that says, “Let’s be nice to animals,” in the TPP is good for their agenda. The problem is, all of those kinds of policies that a country might adopt can then be attacked under the investor-state system, and this is an agreement that, for advocates like 350.org who are fighting climate change, as is the Sierra Club and the others, is catastrophic in that it would require us – it would basically reverse our current policies that allow us to stop the export of natural gas, liquid natural gas, so that we would basically be exporting a lot of carbon-based fuels against a sustainable, noncarbon future economy, and we would lose a lot of the energy and other policy tools we need to combat the climate crisis. So if you’re working just on a particular species, you may think – you may have been sold this is a great deal, and you don’t know the net effect.
The vast majority of environmental groups are leading the campaign against the TPP, because, just as an example, one of the other shocking things in the agreement is George Bush’s trade agreements – they were bad. They had agreements enforcing seven specific multilateral environmental agreements, so that actually those were the environmental standards that were to be enforced by all of the countries. They had to adopt and maintain and enforce those standards in their laws. Here is this new agreement, and it wipes out six of the seven agreements. There’s only one agreement that’s enforceable anymore. So there are no standards in the environmental standards part of the standards in the chapter on environment.
So, with these groups on the foreign policy front, this is – you have sort of expected. The Council on Foreign Relations is a cheerleader for all of these agreements. They’re going to make this argument that somehow this will help our – this will help us contain China. It’s sort of a strange argument. It’s unclear what the good strategy for that is. That’s the usual argument you hear, when actually the argument about jobs fails. The bottom line with TPP, which we knew before, is it will make it easier to offshore American jobs, and it will push down our wages by putting Americans into competition with folks in Vietnam who make less than 65 cents an hour. We knew that before. Now we know all this additional bad stuff.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lori, I wanted to ask you – some groups came out against the agreement that you don’t usually associate with trade deals, like Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch. Could you talk about their concerns?
LORI WALLACH: Yes. So, Doctors Without Borders, which basically, as everyone knows, is a major humanitarian group, is extremely concerned about what would happen with medicine prices. And this gets to the language I had mentioned, where I was shocked to see rollbacks of previous reforms that the Bush administration had made. So Big Pharma got a lot of goodies in this agreement. In a “free trade” agreement, we see new monopoly protections for Big Pharma. And so, Doctors Without Borders is basically pointing out that in a whole smorgasbord of policies, where Big Pharma was trying to use the TPP, the “good name of free trade,” to put into place a bunch of new protections and privileges to raise medicine prices, they got their way. And the two biggest ones are – which is shocking rollbacks from the old US trade standard, which was bad – is all the developing countries in TPP, including countries that are really poor, like Vietnam, ultimately have to have the same extreme patent standards, extreme exclusivities, that will just price people out of medicines. I mean, it will translate to people dying.
AMY GOODMAN: Lori, let’s go to the MSF, the Doctors Without Borders video. This is a part of it.
DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS VIDEO: The TPP is slated to become the most harmful trade agreement ever for access to medicines. The TPP could impose new rules that will extend monopoly protection for medicines, keeping prices sky high for longer and blocking generic drugs from entering the market. For example, one rule would allow patents to be extended beyond 20 years. This means that patients will have to wait longer for access to affordable medicines. And this wait is potentially indefinite, because another TPP rule would allow new 20-year patents to be granted for modifications of existing drugs, for a new dosage, for new formulations, even when there is no real improvement in efficacy for patients, so people must wait longer for affordable, generic medicines to become available. The TPP would also require surgical methods to be patentable – for example, how a doctor operates on a patient.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s what Doctors Without Borders said. This is US Trade Representative Michael Froman on the impact of the TPP on research and access to life-saving drugs.
MICHAEL FROMAN: On biologics, as you know, this is one of the most challenging issues in the negotiation. We have worked cooperatively with all of our TPP parties – partners to secure a strong and balanced outcome, that both incentivizes the development of these new life-saving drugs while ensuring access to these pioneering medicines and their availability. And this is the first trade agreement in history to ensure a minimum period of protection for biologics. And doing so will help set a regional model and will create an environment in which, through comparable treatment, there will be an effective period of protection to encourage both innovation and access.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the US trade representative, Michael Froman. Lori Wallach, your comment on both clips?
LORI WALLACH: Well, now we’ve seen the text. The American public can look at it. And Doctors Without Borders is right. And the US trade representative is trying to defend an indefensible industry position that the administration has put into this agreement. I mean, the bottom line is, most of the countries involved have no exclusivity for those kinds of cutting-edge drugs, which are a lot of the cutting-edge cancer cures – biologics – and now they will have five years, at a minimum. The industry says they got eight years. There will be enormous pressure to have more monopolies. And just think about the theory of this: a “free trade” agreement that stops competition. It stops the competition of generics that bring down prices. That is actually what’s in the text, whatever the US officials are saying. We can read it now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Lori, where do we go from here? Obviously, there will soon be a 90-day period for Congress to vote on the fast-tracking of this bill. The protests are already being called for in Washington, D.C. And the president, whose presidency was largely crippled by the Republicans in Congress for the past seven years, will now depend on the Republican majority to get the votes necessary to pass this.
LORI WALLACH: So yesterday the president gave official notice of intent to enter the agreement. That starts the first 90-day clock. So, ostensibly, by the first week of February, the TPP could be signed.
Then the next question, though, and the most important thing for all of us to think about, is it only becomes reality if Congress approves it. Now, we are behind the eight ball because we’ve got fast track, so no amendments, etc. However, by five votes only did fast track pass. That means if five members of Congress, looking at that text and knowing it’s not what they were promised – that it would offshore more American jobs, it would push down our wages, it would flood us with unsafe food and raise medicine prices – if we have five members in the House of Representatives who say, “Oh, no, that is not what I signed up for,” that’s the end of TPP. So our mission, basically, is knowing there will be a huge push for a vote early in the spring and that this very day the White House has fanned out across the country with Cabinet secretaries. They’re up on the Hill trying to break arms, get members of Congress to say, “Oh, I’ll be for this thing.” We need to do the same thing on behalf of the public, on behalf of the jobs, wages, environment, food safety that our families rely on. And we can get our members of Congress – we only need to move five – to vote no. That’s the end of the TPP.
And we can do this, and we have brothers and sisters in the other TPP countries who are doing the same thing. Together, our goose is not cooked. We can still make sure the TPP bad future is not ours. But we’re going to have to talk to our members of Congress, and we need to start now. And next week is a congressional recess. So members of Congress will be back in the district. Look on their websites. They frequently have open houses. You can just go. They work for you. And if there isn’t an open house, you call and make an appointment. It is really simple. Go to TradeWatch.org, has all the materials, information from way-into-the-weeds analysis. There is an analysis team that has put together, by chapter by chapter, yesterday, the bullets you need to know on each of these details, but also how to do a congressional meeting. Grab a couple of your friends and your family, go tell your member of Congress you need that commitment. We can stop this.
AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, I want to thank you for being with us, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, author of The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority.
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