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As Trump Reconsiders TPP Stance, Fair Trade Advocates Say Real Fight Is over NAFTA Renegotiation

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President Trump campaigned against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, calling it a “disaster,” a “horrible deal” and a “rape of our country.” He withdrew from the controversial deal during his first week in office. But on Thursday, he told a group of state lawmakers he wants the U.S. to rejoin the pact. Meanwhile, 11 nations that represent about a seventh of the world’s economy signed the TPP earlier this year. We get response from Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “I do think where the real fight is right now is on NAFTA renegotiation,” Wallach says. “And this kind of pandering on the TPP makes that NAFTA fight even more important.”

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StoryJul 18, 2017The Ultimate Hypocrisy? Trump Plan to Renegotiate NAFTA Resembles TPP Deal He Withdrew From
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to President Trump’s unexpected reversal on one of his signature campaign promises. On Thursday, Trump told a group of state lawmakers he wants the U.S. to rejoin a massive trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. As a candidate for president, Trump frequently railed against the TPP, calling it a “disaster,” a “horrible deal.” This is Trump at a Republican presidential debate in November of 2015.

DONALD TRUMP: The TPP is a horrible deal. It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: That was 2015. This is Trump in June 2016, during a campaign rally in Ohio.

DONALD TRUMP: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster, done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country. Just a continuing rape of our country, that’s what it is, too. It’s a harsh word. It’s a rape of our country.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, here is Trump again, later in 2016, during a debate with his rival, Hillary Clinton.

DONALD TRUMP: NAFTA is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country. And now you want to approve Trans-Pacific Partnership. You were totally in favor of it. Then you heard what I was saying, how bad it is, and you said, “I can’t win that debate.” But you know that if you did win, you would approve that. And that will be almost as bad as NAFTA. Nothing will ever top NAFTA.

AMY GOODMAN: So, President Trump signed an executive order, one of his first acts in office, to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So, many were, to say the least, surprised on Thursday when Trump responded to pressure from Republican lawmakers from agricultural states, like Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Kansas and Texas, and told them he has directed his economic adviser, the former TV host Larry Kudlow, and his trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, to look into rejoining the TPP.

Later in the day, Trump seemed to dial back his comments, tweeting the U.S., quote, “Would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama. We already have BILATERAL deals with six of the eleven nations in TPP, and are working to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan, who has hit us hard on trade for years!” he said.

Speaking at a business event in Lima, Peru, Thursday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross responded to questions about the change in the U.S. position on TPP.

COMMERCE SECRETARY WILBUR ROSS: The president has made clear, in Davos and before Davos, that he was open to discussions about TPP. This is simply reinforcing existing views that he had expressed earlier.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, 11 nations that represent about a seventh of the world’s economy signed the trade pact earlier this year. It’s now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. This comes as the agreement has also faced years of resistance by fair trade advocates, who say it benefits corporations at the expense of health and environmental regulations.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! again, Lori. Were you surprised yesterday when you heard the news?

LORI WALLACH: From this president, you never know what’s going to be said day to day. But obviously, given the role opposition to TPP played in the election, given the fact the president went out of his way to claim that he had done it in, even though, thanks to activists’ work across the country, the votes weren’t there in Congress, and he was—but he had to celebrate it as showing he had delivered a promise. He was very proud of that, regardless of whether or not he was responsible for it. The notion that he would flip-flop on that was shocking.

But, you know, the bottom line of it is, I think it was just cynical. And he was—they’re trying to have it both ways. They were trying to say what the audience of farm state senators and governors wanted to hear. They were at the White House to woodshed the president over the threat of tariffs with China. And they wanted to—they wanted to hear—they’re all a bunch of TPP lovers. The guy who was the senator who told the press the president had said this is a guy who’s been beating on him over trade forever and is a big fan of TPP, was beating on Bernie Sanders for also being against TPP and NAFTA.

And at the same time, the reaction was harsh and deserved, because it’s outrageous. The AFL-CIO president talked about how getting back into TPP would be an enormous betrayal, it’s a terrible agreement. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, other Democratic members of Congress—I think the only people who were happy were Democratic campaign operatives, who were thinking, “Oh, my goodness, this is gold. I don’t believe he actually said it out loud.”

But in the end, really, I don’t think it’s likely to happen, although the fact they’re even open to it shows a lack of principle. But I do think where the real fight is right now is on NAFTA renegotiation. And this kind of pandering on the TPP makes that NAFTA fight even more important.

AMY GOODMAN: [Public Citizen] posted an image on its Facebook page called “Rogues’ Gallery of Major TPP Supporters (Otherwise Known as the Trump Cabinet)” that includes Vice President Mike Pence, Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, among others. Can you talk about their position on TPP, as well as others in the administration, including, well, those like the U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, and trade adviser Peter Navarro, who don’t support it, and where you think this is going to go?

LORI WALLACH: So, my sense is that there’s been an ongoing push by what is a big cabal of TPP supporters in the administration to try and keep the thing alive, to keep the hope alive that somehow the U.S. would try to renegotiate the terms of it and enter. Or, originally, before the other countries took out some of the most egregious anti-access-to-medicine stuff the U.S. had put in there, and signed it, they had hoped the U.S. might reconsider, etc. So, there is a huge throng of TPP supporters in the high levels of the Trump administration, no doubt.

And by the way, those same folks are totally in love with the status quo of NAFTA. They’d like to turn NAFTA into TPP 2.0. If they can’t get TPP through the front door, they’d like to sneak it through the back door of basically injecting TPP into the NAFTA renegotiation.

But the good news is, the person who is the chief trade negotiator, the Cabinet official, the U.S. trade representative, as you said, a guy named Robert Lighthizer, he is strongly against TPP. He’s always been against TPP. And he’s been the guy in the NAFTA talks who, though it seems improbable—he’s a conservative Republican—has been basically making the same demands—and, by the way, has been in that position for 20 years—as a lot of the Democrats, the unions, Public Citizen, which is to say the NAFTA position is the absolute antithesis of the TPP.

What the official administration official—official administration position being put forward by the trade representative is: get rid of investor-state dispute settlement, because it helps outsource jobs and because it undermines domestic laws by letting corporations attack U.S. laws in front of three corporate lawyers; get rid of the ban on Buy Local and Buy American; have stronger rules of origin, that now they’re suggesting are related to the wage level of the workers making goods, so that the trade agreement basically only gives benefits to the products that are made under the rules. They’re demanding a sunset clause. Every five years, NAFTA would—a new clause, every five years, NAFTA would have to be reviewed. And only if it was actually doing what it was supposed to could it be continued, or take an affirmative vote to continue it.

The place on NAFTA where they haven’t, by the way, gotten to where they need to be is labor standards. They are working on it. There’s ways to go. But the point is, what the administration position is on NAFTA is the opposite of what’s in the TPP. There is no way to fix the TPP. It’s rotten to its core. So the notion that the president would be even open to discussing the thought of potentially, maybe in the future, negotiating the possibility of—total betrayal.

AMY GOODMAN: Do think this has to do with what’s going on here at home—again, as I was talking about Syria earlier, wag the dog—completely unpredictable right now, as Robert Mueller moves in on President Trump?

LORI WALLACH: I think there may be an element to that. But more than anything, I think there is a cabal of farm state legislators, mainly these senators, the guy, Ben Sasse from Nebraska, who’s the guy who broke the story. You know, I think his strategy was a little bit of the hug you to death, instead of screaming at your enemy, because he’s in a trade war with the president over trade. Instead, his idea was, “OK, I’m either going to cause the president a lot of mischief, or, alternatively, I’m going to try and back him into a corner, saying the thing that he gratuitously said to us to try to get us to calm down,” which—how many times have you seen any leader, much less Trump, basically—because Trump does it all the time—say whatever the audience in the room wants to hear? And the way he posited it was, “I’m going to have my guys look at whether or not we should relook at that. Let’s see if we can get back into that. Let’s review that again. Guys, get on that!” And then, a month later, you can say, “They looked at it. We have to renegotiate the whole thing. But we’ll tell you in a year or two if that’s doable.” It was just a way to pipe those guys down.

But the betrayal of even thinking about it, the betrayal to working Americans, those people in Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio, for whom—many of whom had voted for Obama twice, heard someone clear and loudly say, “I’m replacing NAFTA. I’m getting out. I’m out of TPP.” And they thought, “Eww, a lot of the rest of him is extremely problematic, but I’ve got to stop the outsourcing. I can’t have my communities gutted of jobs. I can’t have these wages so low anymore.” They gave it a chance. This is just a slap in the face to all those people, to even contemplate it.


LORI WALLACH: So, I don’t think we—the bottom line is, I don’t think we have to worry about an immediate, or even probably ever, Trump administration re-emergence into TPP. But I do think we really have a lot of work to do to make sure the NAFTA renegotiation is the kind of agreement that works for people on the planet and doesn’t become a sideways TPP 2.0.

AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, we 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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