Congressional Democrats are openly criticizing the secrecy surrounding the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), just as President Obama begins a major push to pass the controversial deal. The United States is engaged in talks with 11 other Pacific Rim countries for the sweeping trade pact that would cover 40 percent of the global economy. But its provisions have mostly been kept secret. After the White House deemed a briefing on the trade pact "classified," Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut called the measures "needlessly secretive," saying: "If the TPP would be as good for American jobs as they claim, there should be nothing to hide." This comes as Obama recently called on Congress to pass "fast track" legislation to streamline the passage of trade deals through Congress. Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO says it will withhold contributions to congressional Democrats to pressure them to vote no on fast-track authority. And some tea party-backed Republicans are saying Obama cannot be trusted with the same negotiating authority that past presidents have had. This spring, the White House has invited Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to address a joint session of Congress in which he may promote the TPP. For more, we speak with by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, who has been sounding the alarm about the negotiations. She says Congress could vote on the TPP proposal in the third week in April.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Washington, where congressional Democrats are openly criticizing the secrecy surrounding the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as the TPP. This comes as President Obama begins a major push to pass the controversial deal. The United States is in talks with 11 [other Pacific Rim] countries for the sweeping trade pact that would cover 40 percent of the global economy, but its provisions have mostly been kept secret. After the White House deemed a briefing on the trade pact classified, Congressmember Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut called the measures "needlessly secretive," saying, quote, "If the TPP would be as good for American jobs as they claim, there should be nothing to hide." Well, this comes as President Obama recently called on Congress to pass fast-track legislation to streamline the passage of trade deals through Congress.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As we speak, China is trying to write the rules for trade in the 21st century. That would put our workers and our businesses at a massive disadvantage. We can’t let that happen. We should write those rules. That’s why Congress should act on something called "Trade Promotion Authority."
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO says it will withhold contributions to congressional Democrats to pressure them to vote no on fast-track authority. And some tea party-backed Republicans are saying Obama cannot be trusted with the same negotiating authority that past presidents have had. This spring, the White House has invited Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to address a joint session of Congress, in which he may promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
For more, we’re joined by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. As the push for the TPP heats up, she was recently featured in a National Journal profile headlined "The Trade Debate’s Guerilla Warrior Gets Her Day."
Welcome back to Democracy Now! Tell us about what you’re most concerned about, Lori.
LORI WALLACH: Well, fast-tracking the TPP would make it easier to offshore our jobs and would put downward pressure, enormous downward pressure, on Americans’ wages, because it would throw American workers into competition with workers in Vietnam who are paid less than 60 cents an hour and have no labor rights to organize, to better their situation. Plus, the TPP would empower another 25,000 foreign corporations to use the investor state tribunals, the corporate tribunals, to attack our laws. And then there would be another 25,000 U.S. corporations in the other TPP countries who could use investor state to attack their environmental and health and labor and safety laws. And if all that weren’t enough, Big Pharma would get new monopoly patent rights that would jack up medicine prices, cutting off affordable access. And there’s rollback of financial regulations put in place after the global financial crisis. And there’s a ban on "Buy Local," "buy domestic" policies. And it would undermine the policy space that we have to deal with the climate crisis—energy policies are covered. Basically, almost any progressive policy or goal would be undermined, rolled back. Plus, we would see more offshoring of jobs and more downward pressure on wages. So the big battle is over fast track, the process. And right now, thanks to a lot of pushback by activists across the country, actually, they don’t have a majority to pass it. But there’s an enormous push to change that, and that’s basically where we all come in.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, people are not used to hearing that President Obama and the Republicans have found common ground and that President Obama’s opposition are the largest bloc in Congress, and that’s the progressive Democrats. Can you explain why President Obama is pushing TPP forward and TPA, the fast-track authority, which means, again, that you can’t amend this agreement, you can only vote up or down?
LORI WALLACH: Well, I want to—actually, I want to take one step back before guessing why, because it’s hard to imagine. If you go to our website, TradeWatch.org, we’ve literally done a side-by-side of Obama’s policy goals as a president and everything fast-tracking the TPP would do to basically undermine everything that he has fought for, from lower medicine prices to re-regulating Wall Street, to more energy-efficient climate crisis-combating policies, to allegedly this middle-class economics agenda. The TPP and fast track are the antithesis.
But one other thing about fast track folks need to know, which is—and this gets to the weird politics—you’ve got the president basically doing the bidding of all the big corporations and commercial interests that spent millions of dollars to make sure he wasn’t elected the first time and to try and not elect him the second time. Against him are the entire labor movement united. There was a letter signed by every union president—basically, the most unity in the labor movement since certain unions left the AFL-CIO 20 years ago. And it’s the government employee unions, it’s the service sector unions—all the unions that are affected by what happens when all of our good jobs are taken away and the tax base crashes. And you’ve got groups that have never been involved in a trade fight before, all the Internet freedom groups who realize the agreement would undermine the basic rights to an accessible, free Internet. There are issues about net neutrality that could be rolled back. It’s just overarchingly a delivery mechanism for a huge, broad corporate agenda. So then, why would the president be with the Chamber of Commerce, the NAM, all the big lobby groups that also tried to unelect him? And against him are almost every House Democrat, and then, interestingly, a bunch of conservative Republicans.
But it’s not—the issue is not that they, we—anyone—doesn’t want this president to have fast track. The issue is fast track is inappropriate for any president. Fast track lets a president unilaterally pick negotiating partners, set wide rules, not about trade, that would rewrite domestic policy, sign and enter an agreement that would require us to change all of our domestic laws to meet those rules, sign and enter into that agreement before Congress votes to approve the contents, then write implementing legislation to change all the U.S. laws, that isn’t subject to congressional review through committee. It goes directly to the floor. And the president is guaranteed in 90 days a yes-or-no vote, with no filibuster, limited debate, and no amendments. So it’s literally a form of diplomatic legislating. And actually, since 1988, only two presidents have managed to have Congress give away all that authority: Ronald Reagan in '88 and George Bush II in 2002. Every other president who's tried—Clinton in '95, ’97, ’98—Congress said no. So it's not an anti-Obama thing. It’s a no giveaway of the ability of Congress to make our laws. And that’s what fast track is. And that’s why it would enable something as outrageous as the TPP.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to just ask one little example: "Buy American," the whole push to try to buy things in the United—that are made here, because it would mean more U.S. jobs, etc.—how would that fit in to TPP?
LORI WALLACH: So the way that that works is TPP, amongst its 29 chapters, only five of which have anything to do with trade, one of the nontrade chapters is a chapter about procurement, government procurement rules. And in that chapter, the requirement is that the U.S. government treat bids from any company in any TPP country identically to how they would treat a U.S. company’s bid. But Buy America and Buy American, two laws, the first one from 1934, requires you give a preference to a domestic company, so that when we’re spending our tax dollars, instead of offshoring our tax dollars, we’re reinvesting them in our communities to create jobs and also, by the way, to create innovation. So, like the CAFE standards, that are now normal, the fuel efficiency standards for cars, that was first a procurement condition; so the Renewable Portfolio Standards, the renewable energy standards that are now part of government procurement—that’s how you create a market using the government funds for a behavior you want the private sector to shift to.
Great policy tool, great job creator, super—except, under TPP, we’d have to give a waiver to that preference. Any company in any TPP country, so even ones that aren’t from those countries—Chinese state-owned enterprise firms in Vietnam—would have to be treated the same as a U.S. company and get all of those government contracts. And that’s also the same rule that undermines all the Buy Local preferences. So to the extent—you know, for instance, a lot of school districts have done rules that say, "Let’s buy local food from local farmers. Let’s not have a big multinational company ship our vegetables a thousand miles away when we have the ability from right here to produce and procure." Those would also be violations. You have to treat the foreign company the same, give them the same access, as you would any domestic company. And if we don’t change our laws to meet those rules, we would face trade sanctions until we do.
AMY GOODMAN: Who negotiated this?
LORI WALLACH: There’s an office that’s part of the Office of the President called the United States Trade Representative, are the actual negotiators. But I think underlying your question is: Who the heck negotiated this? And the reason we have such a lunatic agreement is those negotiators are advised by an official set of trade—U.S. private sector trade advisers. There are almost 600 of these advisers, and all but a handful of them represent big corporate interests. So, there are about 20 labor unions in the mix, of the 600. There are three or four environmental groups. There’s one consumer group, a couple family farm groups. Otherwise, it’s all corporate. So, literally, when it comes to like the pharmaceutical rules, the pricing of medicines, you’ve got all the industry there.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the strategy that you’re—that people are using in opposing this? Democrats in Congress have spoken out, some of them, around the issue of secrecy. The reason we know this agreement, what’s in it, right, is because WikiLeaks released a draft of it about a year ago. But, you know, going back to 1999, the World Trade Organization in Seattle, for example, the massive protest outside led to the World Trade Organization—I mean, basically, the whole ministerial being called off. What kind of organizing is taking place right now?
LORI WALLACH: Well, actually, what shut down the WTO expansion was a combination of inside and outside. So, folks saw the protests in the street in Seattle in ’99, but there was an entire year of campaigning, country by country, around the world to get the governments who were going to that meeting to agree to not do certain things and to demand certain things.
And where we are in the campaign now is, basically, folks have to ramp up the inside and the outside, which is to say—you may think it sounds corny. I swear it makes a difference. I’ve worked in Capitol Hill. Folks, if you have not called your representative and both of your senators and gotten them to commit to you in writing that they oppose fast track, if and when it comes for a vote, which could be as soon as the third week of April, if you have not done that, you must do that. Please do that. Write them snail mail, email, call. The switchboard at the Capitol can connect you. If you’re not sure who your representative is, all you need is your ZIP code. The Capitol switchboard—you should write this down and stick it on a yellow sticky on your fridge for all purposes—202-225-3121, 202-225-3121.
AMY GOODMAN: Lori, we’re—
LORI WALLACH: But the other—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to—
LORI WALLACH: —thing to do is—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there.
AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, speaking to us from Washington. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.