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2013-10-04

"A Corporate Trojan Horse": Obama Pushes Secretive TPP Trade Pact, Would Rewrite Swath of U.S. Laws

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As the federal government shutdown continues, Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Asia for secret talks on a sweeping new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is often referred to by critics as "NAFTA on steroids," and would establish a free trade zone that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile, encompassing 800 million people — about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. While the text of the treaty has been largely negotiated behind closed doors and, until June, kept secret from Congress, more than 600 corporate advisers reportedly have access to the measure, including employees of Halliburton and Monsanto. "This is not mainly about trade," says Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. "It is a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Obama announced this week that the U.S. government shutdown would delay his upcoming four-country trip to Asia, but that negotiations on a controversial new trade agreement he hopes to sign by the end of the year will continue to move forward. Obama called the Philippines president Tuesday night to say he would miss his visit, and a spokesperson shared the news with reporters Thursday.

RICKY CARANDANG: Secretary Kerry ... he will go in place of President Obama. President Obama personally called President Aquino to tell him—to explain to him why he could not make the visit.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: John Kerry will attend Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings next week in Indonesia, where he’ll push for the completion of a sweeping new trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest international trade deal since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995. The administration hopes to pass the measure through Congress by the end of the year using its Fast Track authority to limit lawmakers to an up-or-down vote.

AMY GOODMAN: The TPP is often referred to by critics as "NAFTA on steroids" and would establishing a free trade zone that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile, encompass 800 million people—about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. While the text of the treaty has been largely negotiated behind closed doors, more than 600 corporate advisers reportedly have access to the measure, including employees of Halliburton and Monsanto.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Lori, welcome back to Democracy Now! Just explain what the TPP is.

LORI WALLACH: Well, one of the most important things to understand is it’s not really mainly about trade. I guess the way to think about it is as a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations.

For instance, there are the same investor privileges that promote job offshoring to lower-wage countries. There is a ban on Buy Local procurement, so that corporations have a right to do sourcing, basically taking our tax dollars, and instead of investing them in our local economy, sending them offshore. There are new rights to, for instance, have freedom to enter other countries and take natural resources, a right for mining, a right for oil, gas, without approval.

And then there’s a whole set of very worrisome issues relating to Internet freedom. Through sort of the backdoor of the copyright chapter of TPP is a whole chunk of SOPA, the Stop Online Privacy Act, that activism around the country successfully derailed a year ago. Think about all the things that would be really hard to get into effect as a corporation in public, a lot of them rejected here and in the other 11 countries, and that is what’s bundled in to the TPP. And every country would be required to change its laws domestically to meet these rules. The binding provision is, each country shall ensure the conformity of domestic laws, regulations and procedures.

Now, the only reason I know that level of detail is because a few texts have leaked, and I have been following the negotiations and grilling negotiators from other countries to try and find between the lines what the hell is going on; otherwise, totally secret.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Lori, about that secrecy, even members of Congress have been severely limited in what they can learn, and that’s only after the revelations about the total secrecy that this whole process began with. Could you talk about what members of Congress are allowed to know and how?

LORI WALLACH: Well, what’s really important for people to know—and this gets to what you started out with about Fast Track. Congress has exclusive constitutional authority over trade. It’s kind of like the Boston Tea Party hangover. After having a king just impose tariffs, in that case on tea, the founders said, "We need to put all things about trade, international commerce, in the hands of Congress, the most diffuse part of the elected representation, not the executive, the king." So Congress has all this authority. They’re supposed to be exclusively in control. But until this June, they were not even allowed to see the draft text.

And it was only after a big, great fuss was kicked up by a lot of members—150 of them wrote last year—that finally members of Congress, upon request for the particular chapter, can have a government administration official bring them a chapter. Their staff is thrown out of the room. They can’t take detailed notes. They’re not supposed to talk about what they saw. And they can, without staff to help them figure out what the technical language is, look at a chapter. This is in contrast to, say, even what the Bush administration did. The last time we had one of these mega-NAFTA expansion attempts was the Free Trade Area of the Americas. And in that instance, in 2001, that whole draft text was released to the public by the U.S. government on the official government websites. So, this is extraordinary secrecy, and members of Congress aren’t supposed to tell anyone what they’ve read. So, for instance, you know, Alan Grayson, who was one of the guys who helped to get the text released, Alan Grayson said, "I can tell you it’s very bad for the future of America. I just can’t tell you why." That’s obscene.

This would rewrite wide swaths of our laws. And again, it’s mainly not about trade. So, if we have this agreement in effect, for instance, it would be a big push for fracking. Now you would say, "Why fracking?" Because it doesn’t allow us to have bans on liquid natural gas exports. Or, if this were in effect, we couldn’t ensure the safety of the food we feed our families. We have to import, for instance, fish and shrimp that we know, from the limited inspection that’s done, is extremely dangerous from certain kinds of growing ponds that are contaminated, etc., in some of the TPP countries. Or, for instance, some of the financial reforms where the banksters were finally regulated would be rolled back. All of this, and it would be privately enforceable by certain foreign corporations.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about a bill that didn’t make it through Congress, but the question is, is it incorporated into TPP? And that’s SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. First explain what it is, and talk about where it fits in here.

LORI WALLACH: So, the Stop Online Piracy Act was a vehicle basically to take away some of our rights on the Internet. It would have criminalized what they call inadvertent, small-scale, non-commercial copying. And the example would be, for instance, Juan, I had you over to dinner. You liked the recipe I had. I happened to have taken it for $2 I paid for it off of a paid website. And you said, "Lori, can you send me that recipe?" And, of course, I said, "Yeah," and I sent it to you. That is officially a copyright violation. I should say, "You have to go pay $2 and get it yourself, Juan." But, in fact, it’s small-scale. I didn’t sell it. It’s not commercial. I didn’t send it to a lot of people.

That kind of activity, under SOPA, as well as any number of things we do all the time—making a copy, or like a buffer copy that our computer would make to look at a video, or breaking a digital lock—for instance, if we bought software, but we wanted to run it on Linux—all of those things would be considered criminal activities. We’d face huge fines, and our carriers—Google, etc.—would have to take us off of service, to black us out. So, a huge limit on Internet freedom.

That whole mess was defeated in Congress in a wonderful citizen uprising. A chunk of that is now stuck in the copyright chapter of SOPA—of TPP. So, they call TPP "son of SOPA." In a lot of countries around the TPP region, citizens have fought to have good laws that actually provide them access and don’t allow that kind of control. So, that is a chunk. To give you an idea of how varied the problems are, that’s a chunk of what is in there.

Now, the thing about that Fast Track you mentioned, Fast Track is not in effect. Fast Track is an extraordinary delegation of Congress’s authority. So if we don’t want unsafe food, offshore jobs, SOPA, SOPA, SOPA, limits on Internet freedom, the banksters gettings rolled back into deregulation, we have to make sure that Congress actually maintains its constitutional authority to make sure that before this agreement can be signed, it actually works for us. Fast Track is a delegation of authority. President Obama has asked for it, but it only happens if Congress gives it to him.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lori, what’s been the Obama administration’s position on these negotiations in terms of tobacco? Could you talk about that specifically?

LORI WALLACH: Well, the whole approach of the Obama administration has really been, I don’t know, some combination of heartbreaking and infuriating, because when he was a candidate, President Obama promised he would replace the NAFTA model, and instead they’ve doubled down.

So the tobacco issue is one of those that’s the most gruesome. So, the TPP includes the very controversial investor-state system, which empowers individual corporations to directly sue governments—not in our courts, but in extrajudicial tribunals where three corporate attorneys act as "judges," and these guys rotate between being the judge and being the guys suing the government for the corporation. They’re empowered to give unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to these corporations for any government action—a regulatory issue, environment, health, safety—that undermines the investor’s expected future profits. Under that system, big tobacco companies have been attacking health regulations. And famously—infamously—these kinds of investor-state cases have extracted billions of dollars and undermined important laws. So, Philip Morris has used this to attack Australia, one of the TPP country’s plain-packaging-of-cigarette laws. So, a lot of the TPP countries are very worried that they would be basically handcuffed from being able to regulate for health around tobacco. So, the U.S. originally was going to offer an exception. Big tobacco came in and basically won the day. The U.S. pulled away what was a medium exception, put in something that’s really worse than nothing, and then Malaysia came in and actually offered a real exception, which the U.S. is opposing—just like the U.S. is opposing an exception to maintain financial regulations for prudential reasons, just like the U.S. is opposing a real exception to those investor tribunals with respect to health and the environment. It’s incredibly depressing.

The only good news is a bunch of the other countries have basically said, "Basta! We are not going to roll back these things." So the reason there isn’t a deal is because a lot of the other countries are standing up to the worst of these U.S. corporate-inspired demands. You can see the whole lay of this at ExposeTheTPP, www.exposethetpp. There are fact sheets on each of the ways, each aspect of your life the TPP could affect. And if you want to get down into the weeds and have long papers explaining and/or information from other countries, you can go to tradewatch.org. That’s tradewatch.org. Between those two sets of information, you’ll see there’s almost no part of your life or the things you care about that this agreement couldn’t undermine. And again, trade is the least of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Lori Wallach is director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. When we come back, President Obama is about to hit a new milestone: two million people deported under his administration. We’ll talk about it. Stay with us.

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