TPP TRANSCRIPT 3/5/13 broadcast

This is a transcript of the Air Occupy, Trans Pacific Partnership show broadcast 3/5/2013 on Goliath Radio 1380 AM  with Liz, Jerry and Shannon of Occupy Daytona Beach.


The 16th negotiating meeting held in Singapore for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was attended by 600 corporate lobbyists from the U. S. who are advising U.S. trade representative's in negotiating this new trading partnership.

Air Occupy:

We are talking with Melinda St. Louis, she is with Public Citizen. She is the International Campaigns director with Public Citizens Global Trade Watch. She works with international Allies to roll back WTO, financial regulations and to stop an extension of harmful trade agreements including the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Good morning.  You’re on the air.

Melinda: Good morning, thank you for having me.

Air occupy: thank you for coming on. We wanted to start off with just a general idea off with what the Trans Pacific Partnership is.

Melinda: Certainly. The Trans Pacific partnership really is a back door sneak attack by corporations on a wide swath of domestic policy making and pieces that affect our daily lives. The TTP is being branded as a free trade agreement, as these things often are. It’s a negotiation that’s been happening for the past 3 years behind closed doors between the U.S. and 10 other Pacific Rim countries but with the goal of actually having it be what they call a docking agreement, meaning That more countries in the Pacific and anywhere in the world could eventually join the agreement after its negotiated.

It’s happening in secret.  The texts of the negotiations are not only secret but negotiating parties have agreed to keep them secret for four years after negotiations are completed. Members of the U.S. Congress, parliament’s, countries, the press Etc. do not know what’s in it. However, in the U.S. there are 600 cleared advisers that do have access to the text and those represent almost all of the major multi- national corporations. So while the public is shut out the corporations, the fortune 500 companies, almost all of them, have representatives that are writing text, redacting, etc.

Air Occupy: Well that’s a lot. I wonder if we might step back for a minute and explain to our listeners how this fits in to this World Trade Agreement framework that we have to NAFTA to these new bilateral trade agreements we have between the countries like Columbia, South Korea, and the proposed agreement with the EEU. ( European Economic Union). And why the World Trade Organization, WTO, was created.

Melinda: In the late 1980s, early 1990s, there was a major push through the corporate lobbies and the U.S. and other countries To the push for what they wanted, an enforceable framework of “global government” to support global capital.

There was already a multilateral agreement among countries called the general agreement on tariffs and trade which was basically a negotiating form for countries to negotiate tariffs of schedules etc. with other countries. It was quite problematic but it was a framework that had worked for the time being. Then there was the push to try and solidify and make the trade framework enforceable. To actually kind of create “global governance” around trade but at the same time to expand what trade meant.

When we think about trade, we think about exchanging goods across borders. I make something, you make something else, we trade it. But actually what they started to include in the WTO were “elements of our domestic policy making” to do with trade. Like intellectual property, The domestic policy you make around patents for pharmaceuticals, services, how we deliver essential services, public utilities, education, Health Care, Financial Services. They started looking at technical barriers to trade where we saw the types of regulation that protect food safety or to make sure there’s a free and open Internet. Those types of policies that don’t just affect trade and foreign corporations but affect all corporations that are doing business. And so the WTO was agreed to in the mid-1990s.

Around that same time the U.S. negotiated a free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. called the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, which came in in the mid-1990s as well. And through NAFTA the corporations were actually able to go much deeper than they were globally through the World Trade Organization. And to actually have a system to enforce their corporate rights privately through private foreign tribunals So if they determined that a gov’t passed a law that affects what they consider to be their future profits, they could then sue that Gov’t, not through the domestic courts but through foreign tribunals that don’t have conflict of interest rules, to be able to get cash compensation from the treasury, of the taxpayer dollars, from the country. So that is what began this move to try to deepen what they call trade liberalization which means reducing barriers to trade. Not in just the typical way we think about but also in terms of all the types of regulation that we use to protect the environment and the public interest that can then be challenged by corporations. That’s been expanded through other bilateral and regional trade agreements. As you mentioned, last year there were three trade agreements that were passed by Congress, with a lot of opposition to them, with Columbia, Panama and Korea but there also has been a lot of citizen opposition that has stopped a lot of these efforts from going forward and in early 2000 there was the Free Trade Area of the Americas which was an attempt to expand NAFTA to all of the country’s in the western hemisphere and because of citizen opposition in all of those countries and kind of exacerbating some of those conflicts, they were unable to complete a deal. So whenever they tried to expand, their goal is to try to make this as global is possible. But they haven’t been able to, at the global level, since the formation of the World Trade Organization, to be able to convince all of the countries to push this radical pro-corporate agenda and so since they haven’t been able to do it, they then tried to do it in these bilateral and regional ways and that’s what the Trans Pacific partnership is all about. If it’s kind of the latest, many call it NAFTA on steroids because it’s taking what happened with NAFTA, not learning lessons from the past that actually had negative impacts in all of the countries.  

1 in 5, 1 in 4 manufacturing jobs in America has been eliminated since the era of the WTO and NAFTA and yet the same rules are being kind of tried to push further through the TTP.

Air Occupy: So is it fair to say that TPP is a race to the bottom? The lowest environmental standards. The lowest labor standards, in a given country?

Melinda:  That is definitely the concern. The concern is there are specific pieces in the chapter. The U.S. for example in what they call the labor chapter around labor rights, they are pushing for what they call enforceable labor standards that is being completely opposed by the other members of the negotiations but at the same time the U.S. is pushing these very extreme investment rules that actually encourage job of shoring. They encourage a race to the bottom. I think it’s a fair statement to say that. Those who were in the room and engaged in negotiations are the largest multi-national corporations who want to eliminate regulations so they can operate with as much profit as possible and not face any risk. What you’re seeing is actually trying to what they call harmonize all the rules down to the bottom.

Air Occupy: Well as especially with financial regulation. I know we’ve been through a lot of fights in the past few years about trying to get financial regulations passed here and from what I understand with the TTP this could be a back door way to get around these financial regulations. And actually with the court they are setting up, the three judge panel, the U.S. can actually pay the corporations for passing these regulations.

Melinda: Yes, that is a huge concern since the financial crisis there’s a growing global consensus that it was actually the lack of regulation, actually the radical deregulation of the financial sector which led to the global casino that led to the terrible financial crisis.

And so there is this effort in the United States and Europe and other countries as well, to re-regulate the financial sector. However, in the 1990s during that radical time of regulation, the trade agreement rules we signed up for actually limit the type of regulation you can make on a bank. There are rules that would make it, that would be against our trade commitments to regulate the size of banks, to ban risky products and the types of risky derivatives. There are bans on what they call capital control, which restrict what countries can put on financial transactions ie. taxes or other types of restructurings that can protect their Financial Systems from hot money for speculation that comes in and comes out and can devalue currencies overnight and can be extra ordinarily destabilizing. These types of policy tools that can be used by governments to protect the financial integrity of their systems are actually not permitted under these trade rules.

From leaks of text, we know these are the same kind of text that are being pushed in the TPP. And you’re right, it’s even more concerning in the TPP because it allows a foreign bank, if they find a particular regulation that we pass is going to affect their future profits, instead of challenging that law in our domestic courts, they can take them to these 3 member tribunals that are unelected private sector lawyers. They rotate between representing corporations and serving as what they call arbitrators on these panels. And so they have this incredible incentive to interpret the rules broadly, to rule on behalf of corporations and the result could be that taxpayers actually have to compensate millions or even billions of dollars to these corporations that consider our regulations to be restricting their profits. 

Air Occupy: So if I understand it you were saying that the tribunals already exist under NAFTA?

Melinda:  Exactly.  They do exist under NAFTA but what that means is under NAFTA a Canadian corporation or a Mexican Corp. could sue the United States at a tribunal or a U.S. Corp. could sue the Mexican Government which has happened. Under NAFTA, already $365 million dollars have been paid to corporations from tax payers in the countries of NAFTA.  So when you expand that system to now include all of the country’s in the TPP and with the knowledge that TPP is supposed to be the last trade agreement the U.S. negotiates and all countries would join the TPP, then the U.S. is going to be much more exposed than it has been before to these types of suits.

You have in the TPP, Vietnam is a part of TPP, Japan has expressed its interest (and at this posting has joined). These are countries that are capital exporting and will have registered corporations in the U.S. We have seen the U.S. use this in the developing countries where we had trade agreements to horrendous effect, and it’s very disconcerting for us from the perspective of a small developing country, just to even defend these cases. They would spend millions and millions of dollars, even if they win and so a corporation threatening a certain type of regulation of environmental policy or whatever, is a way they can actually kill the reform. Because the country decides not to implement the law so they don’t end up being dragged into years long and million dollar suits.

Air Occupy: I’ve heard it suggested that in the context of NAFTA that if Trans Canada’s KXL pipeline is denied by the state department that they would have the ability to sue the U. s government for not allowing that to happen.

Melinda:  They absolutely would and were seeing all kinds of policies being attacked. There’s a policy in Quebec banning fracking and many states in the U.S. are having debates about fracking. Well there’s a U.S. Corp. that has filed a complaint under NAFTA because of this Quebec policy, saying that’s a violation of their investor rights.

Eli Lilly which is a pharmaceutical is suing Canada for their patent policy because they denied them a patent because the drug did not produce or have the result that was promised. So instead of challenging that through the system that exists in Canada they are taking it to one of these foreign tribunals.

Phillip Morris is using it to attack a different investment treaty but they are using an investment treaty to attack Australia’s plain packaging law to try to prevent their tobacco control policy.

You see this extraordinary expansion of corporations using this as one more tool to go around the democratic process of these countries.  

The U.S. has dodged a couple of bullets on this but in California there was a suit against the United States because California band a carcinogenic additive that was in gasoline and it was attacked through a NAFTA panel.

There’s $13,000,000,000 billion dollars in outstanding claims just under the NAFTA/U.S. trade agreement and you can only imagine that that is going to expand and there’s no limit on the amount that taxpayers would have to pay.

The government of Ecuador was recently required to pay Occidental Petroleum $2.6 billion dollars in compensation in an absolutely egregious case. It was very clear that Occidental Petroleum violated the contract that they had with the Ecuadorian government, so Ecuador had canceled the contract. The panel had determined that yes indeed occidental had violated the contract but Ecuador still needed to pay compensation to the company. $2.6 billion dollars for a country the size of Ecuador and as this is expanding, countries are getting very very concerned.

The only good news in that panorama is actually in the TPP negotiations. Australia, because they had been attacked by Phillip Morris for their tobacco control legislation have said they will not be bound by these types of tribunals and that’s the first crack in the system. The goal is to actually make sure that other countries stand with Australia and say that this is unacceptable and this is not what countries actually thought they were signing up for when they signed up to these types of investment rules.

Air Occupy: Returning to something you said, Yes Magazine refers to the TPP as a corporate coup.  And you were talking earlier about the banks and regulating the banks and essentially as I understood it, were you saying that the reason that we haven’t addressed too big to fail is because of NAFTA?

Melinda:  Well it’s one of many tools that the large banks will use to try to kill reform and obviously they are using all the tools in their toolkit including campaign contributions and all of the ways corporations interfere with our domestic policy making but the international trade agreement is one way in which we lock in. You may choose to regulate a certain sector at a certain time and that can be a domestic prerogative but if you agree in these international trade agreements at the WTO or through NAFTA or the TPP then you’ve locked that in for all time. You cannot get out of it. Therefore there are rules in the agreement that we have at the WTO through NAFTA that if you committed to open up a sector to foreign competition then you cannot limit the size or the commercial presence or the legal form and so the really important types of regulation that we had under Glass-Steagall in the U.S. that was dismantled during the era of WTO and NAFTA which was basically a firewall between commercial banking and investment banking. To protect depositors from this type of global casino is actually not permitted to stipulate the type of legal form in our trade agreements. And so those types of regulation are being used and attacked.

Actually we know there have been threatening letters from Canadian Banks, for the Volcker rule for example, under NAFTA and so these are ways, that even, and it’s important to know, that even if these things become cases or we don’t lose eight cases, even a threat can make a huge difference while policies are being implemented. You know, when the rules are actually being written. These trade rules allow banks to the able to challenge, to attack rulemaking as the regulations are being implemented.

Air Occupy:  I was going to ask you about Glass-Steagall in the sense that we tie our hands for future determinations by each of these democracies to accept they are democracies to make determinations about how their bank and insurance sectors are even going to be organized.

Melinda:  Yes absolutely.  As a consumer organization and a consumer movement, we believe that these types of regulations, that’s the realm of our domestic and democratic policy making not their realm, for global governance that’s enforceable but is again static for all time. These types of rules are not able to be flexible or to bend. And what you see in governments around the world is that there may be a very pro neoliberal or corporate government that signs the country up to these rules and then even if there’s a change in the government later on they are not able to make the types of changes that are required in their democratic system the cause of the obligations they made through these trade agreements.

Air Occupy:  We would like to tick through some of the other general areas that are going to be impacted by the TPP Like services and food products safety, Internet freedom, and some patent issues. We’d like to start with the implications for jobs here in the U.S. and whether or not we are going to get into a situation like where I guess it’s been estimated we lost or off shored 2 ½ million jobs under that regime (agreement).        

Melinda: The record of these agreements in terms of jobs has been dismal in the United States. It’s almost laughable that they are actually as job creating. President Obama, in his state of the union address said his intention to complete the Trans Pacific partnership was a way to increase exports and increase jobs. What is always left out of that equation is the extraordinary and much larger increase in imports that has happened in the trade agreements we already have. In some cases in the U.S., Korea free trade agreement that was implemented this past year, our exports have actually decreased to Korea in addition to extra ordinarily increased imports. And so what you see is that there is a net loss of jobs. In the era of the WTO and NAFTA, U.S. manufacturing has been obliterated. One in four manufacturing jobs has been lost. There is no reason to assume there would be any difference because in the TPP you’re using the same model that’s been shown to be a colossal failure in terms of job creation in the U.S. It’s actually just expanded to more countries. That would, because there are all these rules, again encourage job off shoring. The investment rules encourage corporations to invest in other countries because it takes away the risk that they would incur if something happens adversely in those countries. Then they could just sue to get compensation from the country if there is a risk or if they experience a loss off shoring. So as you see it’s actually an incentive for job offshoring as opposed to creating investment at home.

There’s a whole chapter on government procurement. That’s when our state, local or municipal governments purchase things for government use or at the Federal level, like all of the contracts for building roads and all of those things. A very important tool that we can use is to invest local, buy local, buy American. Using those tax dollars for minority owned businesses or so forth. Those are some of the procurement contracts that are banned under the TPP. You cannot have these types of preferences for procurement, so again these types of policies are forbidden under these agreements.

Air Occupy:  So any kind of buy American or buy local procurement policies by either Federal, state or local governments would not be allowed.

Melinda: It would not be allowed. Basically what it would mean is that you could do that but you would have to treat a Malaysian company or Australian company as local in your procurement contracts. So you could say yes we have a bye local but that means every country that’s part of the TPP would count as local.

Air Occupy: I understand that at the Federal level but does that have any implications for local governments, county governments, or municipal governments on by local policies?

Melinda: It definitely can.  There is at the state level, states can opt in or out.  Typically that’s how it’s been in past agreements to be bound. But in the WTO for example 36 states are bound by WTO procurement policies which means that thereby local policies could be challenged under the trade obligations. There has been a lot of work with state level official’s to make sure that they are tracking this because again, the Federal government is negotiating this agreement and when they make these policies they actually do bound the states to them unless they are specifically exempted from them.

Air Occupy: I wonder if you might address Food Product safety rules and regulations and laws that we have here and what the implications of the TPP are for these things.

Melinda: What we’ve seen unfortunately with the record of past agreements is that – – – basic – – – be challenged is what can be called these technical barriers to trade. Even the labeling has been challenged under these trade agreements. Particular types of labels, for example the Dolphin safe tuna label that folks may be familiar with has been ruled illegal at the WTO this year. The United States is going to be forced to change our law (we require dolphin safe labeling for tuna sold in U.S.) or pay compensation. It is considered an unfair barrier to trade which seems very counter intuitive because even under a free trade framework, the idea is that with good consumer information, consumers make the right type of choices. But in this case dolphin safe tuna label is considered to be, even a voluntary label like dolphin safe tuna, is illegal.

Also our country of origin labeling of beef has been ruled to be WTO illegal. So now it’s illegal for us to know which country our beef comes from. You can expect those types of challenges. At the WTO, the dispute settlement is country to country, so a corporation has to convince a government to bring another government up to dispute settlement. There is a little bit more of a check but even so what we’ve seen is these important public interest policies challenged. Under the TPP an individual corporation can bring a dispute around certain types of labels that may impact their ability to sell. So that’s a very slippery slope. As soon as you say you can’t have a country of origin labeling of beef, what does that mean for a sweat free label, what does that mean for organic, or all the types of labels that we have come to trust? Those can actually be challenged as unfair barriers to trade. It remains to be seen as to how far that’s going to go. But what we see, the trend, is very concerning.

Air Occupy:  Were running up to the end of our interview with you and there’s so much to cover. We haven’t even talked about Internet freedom with the back door of SOPA with Internet privacy. Or the higher medicine prices that big Pharma could bring into the deal because countries won’t be able to price check. But I was wondering if you wanted to maybe wrap up and comment about that and what we can do?

Melinda:  The Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA was defeated in our democratic process because of the impact it could have on Internet freedom. The TPP is a back door to those types of provisions. There has been a leak and under the so called copyright provision there would be policing of the Internet and criminalization of basic use of some kinds of content.

Also, the large pharmaceutical companies are very much a part of this negotiation and in fact instead of promoting free trade they want to extend their monopoly rights to restrict generic competition for the drugs that have life and death implications for people with AIDS in some of the developing countries and also for drug prices at home. As you can see this affects all aspects of our daily lives.

It’s happening in secret.  It’s very important for us to drag it out of the shadows so that there can be a robust debate. We encourage people to learn more about it. We have a website TTP2012 .com or where they can learn more and take action and be a part of the global movement because we do believe it’s such an over reach of the corporations that it’s vulnerable to public outrage. We think we can stop it just the way we stopped the free trade area of the Americas.  

UPDATE: 4/2/2013

Eleven countries are now involved—Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States—and there is an open invitation for more to join. Think of the TPP as a NAFTA on steroids, which could encompass half of the world.