trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
WikiLeaks has published the secret text to part of the biggest U.S. trade deal in history, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). For the past several years, the United States and 12 Pacific Rim nations have been negotiating behind closed doors on the sweeping agreement. A 95-page draft of a TPP chapter released by WikiLeaks on Wednesday details agreements relating to patents, copyright, trademarks and industrial design — showing their wide-reaching implications for Internet services, civil liberties, publishing rights and medicine accessibility. Critics say the deal could rewrite U.S. laws on intellectual property rights, product safety and environmental regulations, while backers say it will help create jobs and boost the economy. President Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman reportedly wish to finalize the TPP by the end of the year and are pushing Congress to expedite legislation that grants the president something called "fast-track authority." However, this week some 151 House Democrats and 23 Republicans wrote letters to the administration saying they are unwilling to give the president free rein to "diplomatically legislate." We host a debate on the TPP between Bill Watson, a trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute, and Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: WikiLeaks is back in the news after it published Wednesday part of the secret text of a massive new trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. For the past several years, the United States and 12 Pacific Rim nations have been negotiating behind closed doors on the sweeping agreement. On Wednesday, WikiLeaks released a 95-page draft of a TPP chapter focusing on intellectual property rights. WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange appeared in a YouTube video Tuesday talking about the leak.
JULIAN ASSANGE: We released today the secret international—the secret intellectual property chapter, what they call intellectual property, but it’s actually all about how to extend the monopoly rights of companies like Monsanto, which has genetic patents over wheat and corn; extending the ability of Disney to criminally prosecute people for downloading films, prosecute Internet service providers; Japan introducing something they call a patent prosecution highway—Japan has. And so, we released all this, their secret negotiating positions for all 12 countries.
AMY GOODMAN: The WikiLeaks release of the text comes a week before a TPP chief negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah. President Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman reportedly wish to finalize the TPP by the end of the year and are pushing Congress to expedite legislation that grants the president what’s known as "fast-track authority." However, this week some 151 House Democrats and 23 Republicans wrote letters to the administration saying they’re unwilling to give the president free rein to, quote, "diplomatically legislate."
Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we host a debate on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Bill Watson is trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. And Lori Wallach, the director of the fair trade group Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Bill Watson, why do you support the TPP?
BILL WATSON: Well, we need to remember, when—when we see some of these reports about the intellectual property chapter, we need to remember that the free trade agreements are about fundamentally something very different: They are about free trade. And the value of free trade, I think, is really incontrovertible. The United States has been lowering its barriers for 50 years to engage in the global economy in a way that increases growth economically, that improves the quality of life of people in the United States. We still have a number of protectionist measures in the United States that an agreement like the TPP will address. Particular to Asia that are at interest in this agreement are tariffs, quotas and subsidies dealing with things like footwear and clothing, consumer items that these barriers really act as taxes on the poor, mostly, who end up paying a larger portion of their income to support an economic policy that benefits a select few.
The protectionist measures in place, these trade barriers, are special-interest handouts to big businesses that have good lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. The purpose of a free trade agreement is to overcome an inherent political difficulty in getting rid of those barriers. We know we want to get rid of the barriers, but it’s hard to counteract these special interests because they have a lot of influence in Congress. So, the idea of a reciprocal free trade agreement, where the U.S. lowers its barriers and, in exchange, other countries lower theirs, is a way to gain—to—really, to gain special-interest support for the free trade agreement that U.S. industries that benefit from export access abroad will lobby. They have a concentrated benefit in the agreement. And so, they will counteract the special interests that are supporting the existing barriers. The end result, ideally, is open markets at home and abroad. And this is a very good outcome.
The problem at this point, if you can say there’s a problem—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bill Watson, if we can, if we could bring in Lori Wallach to respond to some of your comments, especially in terms of the—we’ve had lots of publicity over pharmaceuticals and the huge disparities in prices of pharmaceuticals around the globe and how this might affect the—under the TPP agreement. Lori?
LORI WALLACH: Well, free trade is a pretty theory, but as yesterday’s WikiLeaks showed, the TPP has very little to do with free trade. So, only five of the 29 chapters of the agreement even have to do with trade at all. What’s in that intellectual property chapter? What the Cato Institute would call rent seeking—governments being lobbied by special interests to set up special rules that give them monopolies to charge higher prices. What does that mean for you and me? In that agreement, we now can see the United States is pushing for longer monopoly patents for medicines that would increase the prices here. They’re looking for patenting things like surgical procedures, making even higher medical costs. They’re looking to patent life forms and seeds. And with respect to copyright, the U.S. positions are actually even undermining U.S. law. So, for Internet freedom, if you didn’t like SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, the domestic law that Congress and amazing citizen activism killed last year when it was attempted to be pushed here domestically, huge chunks of SOPA are pushed through the backdoor of this intellectual property chapter.
Now, what the heck is that doing in a free trade agreement? I would imagine the Cato Institute is also wondering: Are Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the free trade philosophers, rolling in their graves? Because that is protectionism. This is patent monopolies. This is copyright extensions. This is actually exactly what Bill just talked about, which is powerful special interests—Big Pharma, Disney and the other big-content guys—undermining us as consumers—our access to the Internet, our access to affordable medicine—and they’re using their power to put that into an agreement that they’ve got misbranded as "free trade." That’s what’s the real TPP. So maybe, actually, we agree, between the consumer group Public Citizen and Cato, that what’s in TPP, whatever you think about free trade, ain’t so good for most of us.
BILL WATSON: This is a rare occasion where I do agree with Lori Wallach. I agree that what’s going on in the IP chapter is a special-interest free-for-all, a grab bag, that U.S. companies are pushing to get what they want in these agreements. And the problem, really, with that is that intellectual property is not a trade issue, and it shouldn’t be in the agreement. Originally, adding intellectual property into the agreement was a way to bring on more political support, to be able to bring in U.S. companies to counter other U.S. companies that would oppose the agreement. At this point, I think we’ve gotten to where the intellectual property chapters are so expansive that what you’re seeing is a domestic constituency, people concerned about copyright and patent reform, who are opposing the TPP, not because of anything having to do with trade, but just because it’s going to reform U.S. copyright and patent laws. So, the—what I would say is that we need to have a renewed focus within these trade agreements to be more about free trade and less about some of these other issues like intellectual property rights.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Bill Watson, why should we even have to depend on WikiLeaks to provide information on what’s in this proposed agreement? Isn’t the actual—just the super secrecy under which this agreement has been worked out, raise questions for ordinary citizens about why all the secrecy?
BILL WATSON: You know, I’m certainly glad that WikiLeaks published this report. Personally, I like to be able to read it. It’s very interesting. I wish that they would publish the rest of it, to show us the rest of the draft text. I don’t think that it would be, at this point, particularly harmful to the agreement to let us know something about the countries’ negotiating positions.
But I really—I really disagree that the TPP negotiations are especially secret. There’s a lot that goes on in Congress that the public doesn’t know about. When Congress writes a law, we don’t know in advance what it’s going to be before it gets proposed. So, they’re still trying to figure out what the contents of the agreement will be. They don’t know yet; they’re working on it. So, eventually, we’ll see something. We’ll see it well in advance of when it becomes law, and Congress will have a chance to decide to vote yes or no on the agreement.
AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, what most surprised you about seeing the TPP agreement for the first time yesterday, you know, the WikiLeaks leak?
LORI WALLACH: Well, first of all, this is extraordinarily secret. I’ve followed these negotiations since 1991 with NAFTA. And during NAFTA, any member of Congress could see any text. In fact, the whole agreement between negotiating rounds was put in the Capitol, accessible for them to look at. In 2001, the Bush administration published the entire Free Trade Area of the Americas text, when it was even in an earlier stage than TPP is right now, on government websites. They’ve even excluded members of Congress from observing the negotiations. I mean, this is extraordinary.
And so, to me, what was the most horrifying, I would say, is the ways in which the U.S. negotiators are using this agreement to try and rewrite U.S. law. I mean, I find it morally repugnant and outrageous that the U.S. negotiators be pushing Big Pharma’s agenda to raise medicine prices for the developing countries in the TPP. People in Vietnam, in all the developing countries that have HIV/AIDS, that have malaria, they need access to generic medicines, and this would cut it off. But they’re actually doing it also to us. So, to the extent, theoretically, they’re sort of supposed to be representing our interests, it would make cancer drugs in this country more expensive. Evergreening of patents, changing just a little tweaky thing, the six-hour versus 12-hour version of a medicine, you get 20 more years of monopoly. Also undermining our Internet freedom by rewriting U.S. law? There’s language in there where U.S. law says there’s an exception for liability for U.S. Internet service providers. The U.S. is the only country in that bracket that’s saying, "No, we shouldn’t allow that in TPP." It’s backdoor diplomatic legislating.
And that ties into that business with fast track. Why were—and it’s now 27 Republican members, because there was a second letter that came out of the Republicans, and 151 Democrats—why were they all saying together, in the last 36 hours, "No fast-track trade process. We don’t want to give away our constitutionally granted authority over trade policy"? And a big piece of the reason is, the left and right in Congress may disagree on what the policies should be, but they actually believe that, constitutionally, Congress gets to write our legislation. So the notion of this backdoor legislating, that we saw actually revealed in this WikiLeak, is precisely what is uniting, animating congressional outrage at the notion that after being left out of these negotiations uninformed, somehow they should volunteer to handcuff themselves so they can be thoroughly steamrollered and have even their legislating authority undermined through this so-called trade agreement. That’s really a backdoor coup d’état on domestic policymaking.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Watson, might this be another place where you and Lori Wallach agree?
BILL WATSON: Not really, no. I see—on fast track, let me just say that I don’t have a lot of confidence in Congress’s ability to come in and resist special interests and make good policies on these areas. But, actually, fast track is a way for Congress to exert its influence over these agreements. When it—when Congress passes fast track, it imposes a number of negotiating objectives. One of those, if Congress imposes fast track, is to—is to have strong IP measures in the agreement. So, you know, you don’t necessarily want Congress’s input, you know, if you’re trying to get a good policy here. But you do get it through fast track, and you get increased transparency. Fast track will set the rules for what the president—who the president has to talk to and inform in Congress and how Congress participates in the agreement.
But let me also say, you know, when Lori talks about how increased patent law on pharmaceuticals is going to harm people in poor countries like Vietnam, I’d like to point out also that trade barriers harm people in countries like Vietnam. Our trade barriers harm them; their trade barriers harm them. It stunts the growth of their economy, prevents them from engaging in commerce that increases their quality of life. What we need to do is not ditch the free trade agreement because some parts of it are harmful; we need to get rid of the harmful parts and recognize the value of these agreements in improving quality of life around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach?
LORI WALLACH: I’m sorry, right now under the so-called trade authority system, there are 600 corporate advisers who, with the executive branch, are behind closed doors making these rules, seeing the text. I, myself, have much more faith in the U.S. Congress, the U.S. public and the U.S. press and the democratic process, with all of us who will live with the results, messy though democracy may be, having the ability to make sure these policies work for us. I don’t want a bunch of unelected U.S. "trade negotiators" and 600 corporate advisers dictating my future through so-called trade agreements.
I mean, these agreements, once they’re implemented, you can’t change a comma unless all the other countries agree. It locks into place, super-glues, cements into place one vision of law that, as we’ve seen, has very little to do with trade. It’s about domestic food safety. Do we have to import food that doesn’t meet U.S. safety standards? It’s about setting up international tribunals—can’t imagine the Cato Institute likes that, global governance and all—where U.S. government could be sued and our Treasury raided by foreign corporations, who are rent seeking, compensation for not having to meet our own laws that our domestic companies have to meet.
And I’ve got to say something about fast track, which is, in fact, empirically, Bill, fast track is a huge giveaway of Congress’s authority. And for anyone who wants to get into the weeds, please take a look at my book, The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority . You can get it on tradewatch.org, www.tradewatch.org. We looked at the history of trade authorities since the founding of the country. Because of the old Boston Tea Party, Congress—the Founders put Congress in charge of trade, so the king couldn’t just dictate, with a few special interests, what would be our trade policy. And historically, Congress has had the steering will, the emergency brake. Nixon came up with fast track in '73. It's anomalous. Sixteen agreements ever have used this handcuff procedure. Why are Democrats and Republicans together saying, "No more"? Not because they want to have a seat at the negotiating table, but because they want a role in the formative aspects of trade agreements.
In the end, how they vote on it ain’t the issue. The question is up front: Is it going to be in our interests, with accountability and actually not having these corporate advisers making the calls, or is it going to be a trade agreement like TPP, which, Cato must agree, really is not about free trade but has become, really, the Trojan horse for all these other issues? So, in the end, the process is really important. And historically, we’ve had a new trade negotiating mechanism every 20 years until now. President Obama, as a candidate, said he’d replace it. You can find out if your member of Congress was amongst the 200 who said they would hold on to their constitutional authority, or if you need to do a little conversation with your member. You can see all of that at exposethetpp.org. That’s a website, exposethetpp.org.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lori, if I—if I can bring Bill Watson in, on this issue of—because you, yourself, Mr. Watson, admit that there are objectionable parts to this agreement that need to be changed, but how would that change occur if the pact is being negotiated essentially in secret and then fast-track legislation would require Congress to vote it up or down? How will the changes occur?
BILL WATSON: It’s very good question. And, you know, to be honest, the problem with issues like intellectual property is not just in free trade agreements. Congress is not very good about intellectual property, either. So, I think that we need to be more active in explaining to Congress what the right policies are, to use the democratic process. Fast track and, indeed, these negotiation—negotiated agreements are not really a way to bypass Congress. Congress still has say. They still have to approve the agreement. They can—they can do a number of things to exert pressure on the administration to include certain things. They don’t always include very good things. So going to Congress is not really the best way to get the agreements through. And indeed, fast track is a way to increase the power of Congress, in a number of ways, and so may—I agree with Lori Wallach there are some dangers to using fast track, but—but in the end, I just don’t see Congress, and even a little bit more transparency, as really a panacea for solving these problems. This is a larger issue.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, Bill Watson, we gave you the first word; Lori Wallach, you’ve got the last.
LORI WALLACH: The bottom line of all of this is we need a new procedure to replace fast track that gives the public the role and Congress the role to make sure what will be binding, permanent, global laws do not undermine either our democratic process of making policies at home—that we need—or that lock us into retrograde policies that the current 600 corporate trade advisers are writing to impose on us. So, we need a new way to make trade agreements to get different kinds of agreements. And the bottom line with TPP, as this WikiLeak just showed, it’s very dangerous. It’s not about trade. You’ve got to find out about it. And you’ve got to make sure your member of Congress maintains their constitutional authority. Democracy is messy. But I, myself, more trust the American public, the press and this Congress rather than 600 corporate advisers. We need to make sure what’s in that trade agreement suits us, and you all are going to be the difference in doing that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll certainly link to the document that WikiLeaks has just leaked, the draft TPP proposal. Lori Wallach, thanks for being with us, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, and Bill Watson, trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute.
Coming up, the Senate is poised to vote on an amendment to allow military sexual assaults to be prosecuted outside the chain of command. We’ll speak with Amy Ziering, the producer of the Oscar-nominated film, Invisible War. Stay with us.