People gather at Peace Arch Park in 2012 to oppose the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). (Photo: Caelie_Frampton/flickr/cc)
My guests today are Kevin Zeese and Dr. Margaret Flowers, both activists with PopularResistance.org. You are currently leading protests outside the Capitol regarding TPP, the notoriously opaque trade agreement being pushed by the president and many members of Congress. There’s been a lot of talk but I, for one, haven’t seen any of the details. How do we really know the agreement is so bad?
Kevin: Thanks for covering this issue as you are right, people do not know a lot about the TPP and the two other agreements being negotiated in secret by the Obama administration. We do know a lot even though they have tried to keep all of this secret. For each agreement we know what countries are involved and what the major topics are. The largest agreement, and probably the one that will have the biggest impact is the Trade In Services Agreement (TiSA). Services make up 80% of the US economy and include things like the Postal Service, Financial Services, Health Services, Accounting Services and similar activities. TISA involves 50 countries including all of the European Union. It does not include any of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) so it is an agreement of the western countries who are most corporate dominated. We know from a recent leak that it is pushing toward privatization of everything and de-regulation of business. It is a neo-liberal economic and political model for the world. See WikiLeaks Releases Documents Related To Controversial TISA .
Similarly with the TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) there have been numerous leaks that let the public know a great deal about these agreements. Wikileaks has been the main source of leaks, but not the only source. In addition, some members of Congress have read the drafts (although they are heavily redacted) and one senator, Jim Sessions (R-AL) sent a Dear Colleague letter to all the members of the Senate. This letter was heavily reported on in Breitbart News, see Senator Sessions Takes a Bold Step: Tells the Truth about TPP .
Essentially, what these leaks show is these deals are not really trade deals but treaties that will impact all aspects of our lives from the water we drink, access to healthcare, the safety of food, financial regulation, energy extraction like frackng and tar sands, climate change . . . it’s hard not to think of an area impacted. Essentially, they are corporate power grabs that shift power to corporations from people and put in place deregulation and privatization. They seek to commodify whatever they can so that profits can be made. Sometimes rather than deregulation they are putting in place laws for corporations, e.g. when it comes to intellectual property, they broaden copyright and patents.
We only need to look back at NAFTA and CAFTA to realize that bad trade deals, or faux trade deals, are bad for America. Those agreements were pushed as vital to American interests and yet so many jobs were lost. This looks like NAFTA on steroids. So, why would President Obama and so many member of Congress favor this? Why do we keep repeating the same mistakes?
Kevin: That is one of the most common questions we are asked: Why does Obama support this? Well, not only does he support it but Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says that he has never seen Obama work so hard on any piece of legislation his entire time in office. It is bizarre to people because it undermines everything Obama claimshe supports.
First, you are right — these trade agreements lose jobs, increase the trade deficit and expand the wealth divide. Those are the consistent outcomes, all are well documented. I see three reasons why President Obama is working so hard to pass these rigged corporate trade deals.
1. President Obama has always been a Wall Street Democrat. He believes in capitalist markets dominated by big finance. Wall Street was the key to him winning his first presidential election and he has been loyal to them despite their crashing of the economy. He has surrounded himself with Wall Street advisers and has never sent a leader of a Wall Street bank or investment firm to jail. You could see these Wall Street market tendencies in his healthcare law, the ACA. It is an investor-driven law that is built on the market approach to healthcare rather than the social good or human rights approach. It benefits investors in for-profit hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and the insurance industry. As we are already seeing for people, it means higher premiums, higher out-of-pocket costs and less coverage making health care often too expensive to use even if you have insurance.
Wall Street and most big business interests want these trade agreements. Not only will it mean trillions in profits over the next decade but they greatly expand corporate power globally and inside the United States. The US will be required to harmonize all its laws and regulations (at every level of government) with the provisions of the treaties. This will allow big business interests to get through the back door what they could not get through the front door of Congress. And, as corrupt as Congress is, most things can easily get through the front door. Globally, it means a web of trade laws designed for transnational corporations that will rule the world economy and make corporations more powerful than nations.
2. The Asian Pivot is the center of Obama’s foreign policy. This is the shift of 65% of Navy resources to the Asia Pacific, encircling China militarily. It involves expanding military ties with most of the governments in the region and conducting massive war games focused on China and North Korea. It also involves encouraging conflicts between China and her neighbors over disputed Islands and other territories. This will force China to spend more money on its military and embroil it in conflicts throughout the region.
Let’s hope the Pentagon planners are not foolish enough to be planning a war with China.The TPP is the economic portion of the Asian Pivot. It surrounds China economically and leaves them out of the agreement. It puts China is a tough position as the US pushed treaties greatly oppose “state supported enterprises” and much of China’s economic philosophy is based on the state playing a role in building the economy.Similarly the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) involves 50 nations but does not include any of the BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. TISA is the corporate-dominated western countries putting in place trade policies that benefit western transnational corporations.
In the end, these approaches will backfire against the United States and we would be much smarter if we worked together with China and other countries rather than tried to dominate them militarily and economically but the US is the largest Empire in world history, really an Empire of government and transnational corporations, and hegemony is the only policy government officials can imagine. The Pentagon calls it Full Spectrum Dominance — and that includes not only military domination but political and economic domination as well. These trade agreements are central to US foreign policy as well as the goals of transnational corporate powers.
3. There are also personal considerations, perhaps this is why President Obama has reacted so personally often in the trade debate. President Obama’s retirement from public office is in the not-too-distant future. He is planning on building not one, but three Obama Presidential Centers, in Chicago, New York and Hawaii. It has been reported that he intends to raise $500 million for these three centers. It may end up being even more as these kinds of projects tend to cost more than planned. Where is that money going to come from? It is not going to come from $25 donations but from big corporate donations. So, he needs a lot of wealthy corporations to recognize he is their ally and has contributed to their wealth. Throughout the Obama presidency, he has aided the wealthy first as more than 90% of the income from the so-called recovery has gone to the top 1 percent. It is a pitiful record. Obama will also want six figure speaking engagements to corporations, big book deals and donations to the non-profit he will be creating. He needs wealth friends so he is doing them a big favor — at our expense.
None of these reasons are persuasive, in fact they are all misguided. We should be putting in place trade agreements that put the lifting up of people and protection of the planet before corporate profits. These agreements should be negotiated transparently so the people and Congress can weigh in on them so they are better agreements. The US has been negotiating trade wrongly for many years, especially since Clinton’s NAFTA and WTO. The nation keeps repeating the same mistakes despite results that show record trade deficits, shrinking US jobs, shrinking worker income and an expanding wealth divide along with environmental destruction. The failure to face these well documented realities shows the deep corruption of the US government and economy.
Well, Kevin, everything you’ve just said is quite damning. It’s hard to find anything attractive about the deal, not to mention the tip-off, that it’s been cloaked in secrecy.
But, there’s another aspect, I understand, that has ramifications on our health care going forward. Margaret, would you like to speak about that?
Margaret: Certainly. Thank you for asking, Joan. This is one of the major reasons that I am involved in the fight against Fast Track and these treaties. Not only will they reduce access to health care, but the impacts they will have on food safety and contamination of the environment will also significantly harm health.
Several sections of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that have been leaked show that it will raise the cost of health care and prevent the healthcare solution that we need, a single payer or Medicare for all system. Pharmaceuticaland medical device corporations will have the ability to ‘evergreen’ patents, which essentially means that they can renew patents over and over. There are also more barriers to the production of generics. This allows these corporations to keep their prices high, and therefore their exorbitant profits, which reduce access to necessary medication and treatment.
Pharmaceutical and medical device corporations also have greater legal standing to force health systems to pay higher prices. In fact, they can require health systems to help pay for the costs of marketing, which costs more than the research, development and production of these entities. The most recent leak of the TPP by Wikileaks shows that our Medicare system is a particular target. The TPP will force Medicare to cover expensive drugs and treatments even if there are more effective and less costly alternatives available. The impacts on Medicare’s budget is that cuts in services will need to be made to compensate for higher spending on drugs and treatments.
The TPP is also attacking our public health systems in other ways. A chapter on investment leaked in 2012 shows that state-owned-enterprises (defined as any entity that receives advantages in part or in full from the government) are considered threats to private enterprises and that private entities should be given the same advantages as public ones. This will lead to further privatization of our public health systems and will prevent us from moving to single payer because creating a public universal health system would be seen as unfair to private health insurers.
Beyond this, the TPP and other treaties being negotiated will prevent us from passing laws to protect the health and safety of our communities and our environment. The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) chapter allows corporations to sue our governments if laws interfere with their expected profits. The cases are heard in an international trade tribunal that operates outside of our judicial system and that has the final word, making it of questionable legality under the US Constitution. Under ISDS, educating the public about the dangers of products such as cigarettes would interfere with profits. Labeling food so that we know if it contains genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) or other harmful ingredients would interfere with profits. If a community tries to prevent a corporation from poisoning its land, air or water, that would interfere with profits. And in all of these scenarios, if the public votes democratically to demand public health education, food labeling or environmental protection laws and is then sued by a corporation for billions of dollars, then the law will be repealed.
This exact situation happened while we were camped out on Capitol Hill. Canada and Mexico sued the US in the World Trade Organization trade tribunal over our Country of Origin Labelingor COOL law which requires meat sold in the US to be labeled with the country of origin. This was perceived as a ‘trade barrier’ and the tribunal ruled against the US. Rather than face potentially billions of dollars in fines, Congress members were called to the Capitol one night to vote to repeal the law. Even John Boehner, one of the main leaders pushing fast track and the treaties, complained about being forced to repeal the law. Of course, the three Obama trade treaties will expand these Trade Tribunals power over all levels of government making it more difficult for them to act in the public interest.
These are some of the ways that the treaties will directly harm our communities. And this is why some communities are passing resolutions which say that they will not comply with secretly negotiated treaties if it comes to compromising the health and safety of their residents. These are known as ‘TPP-Free Zones‘ and we expect more communities to pass them.
Since we began this interview, Congress gave the president fast track authority. What comes next? Is the fight over? Can the TPP and other trade agreements still be stopped?
Kevin: It is worth noting that both Houses of Congress passed Fast Track trade authority with the minimum number of votes requires; 218 in the House and 60 in the Senate. We see this as choreographed corruption as the Congress knew there was a populist revolt against the fast tracking these trade treaties and did not want one politician more than necessary to risk their political careers by voting for fast track.
This demonstrates that we have political power. We need to build it and use that power in the upcoming political effort to stop each of the three trade treaties Obama is pushing. The first to come before Congress is almost certainly going to be the TPP. President Obama has been negotiating this for over six years and the US Trade Representative has said that it is 95% complete. When the negotiations are completed and the agreements are initialed they will be sent to Congress. One thing we won during the Fast Track campaign was more time for Congress to see the TPP. The Congress will receive it for 60 days before the Fast Track clock starts counting, then there will be additional time for the House to debate and vote followed by the Senate.
So we will have several months to educate, organize and mobilize people. This is likely to occur in the Fall, some estimate the likely time will be November. We will know more about the exact dates as we see when the negotiations are finalized. The key thing about that timing is the election season. Anytime after Labor Day is considered the re-election season for members of Congress. This puts them more on edge, more concerned about the voters. As we saw in the Fast Track vote, only the minimum number would take the risk of voting for Fast Track. Elected officials concern with public opinion, and fear of a populist revolt, will be an even greater concern in the fall.
If it is November when the TPP comes before Congress, then the debate on the TPP will be perfectly timed to become a national issue because the Iowa Caucus occurs on February 1, the New Hampshire primary is on February 9, the Nevada Caucus is on February 20th and the South Carolina primary is on February 27th. Right now in both the Republican field and Democratic field, there are differences of opinion on these corporate rigged trade agreements. We already saw Hillary Clinton squirming during the Fast Track debate. This means that the TPP is very likely to become a national issue educating tens of millions about it and mobilizing even more than were active during Fast Track.
We have talked to people in the various organizations who were in the Stop Fast Track coalition as well as on the ground activists since the vote on Fast Track and the reaction is not dejection but anger. Our job is to harness that anger to mobilize people in an effective way.
Ralph Nader suggestsa first step: send the legislators who supported the fast track “a CITIZENS’ SUMMONS to appear at a town meeting where you, not they, present the agenda. If the lawmakers think 500 or more determined people will show up, it is very likely they will relent and meet with you.” August is recess and many members are home. This is a good time to pressure them and let them know voters saw what they did. This approach is also an opportunity to build the movement against the TPP.
If people want to stay involved in the battle against the TPP, we have a number of steps you can take to get involved here. Stopping the TPP is a critical battle for the future of the nation and the planet. It is one the people can win but only if we are organized and mobilized. We are building on a large foundation of mobilized people. Join us now to get involved with the movement of movements that is working to return power to the people and defeat transnational corporate power.
Thanks so much for talking with me, Kevin and Margaret. Many people are quite upset about the passage of the TPP legislation. It’s great to have something constructive to do with that anger.
My prior interviews with Margaret or Kevin:
Dr. Margaret Flowers: Net Neutrality and What You Can Do To Ensure It, 11.19.14
Interview with Dr. Margaret Flowers, Arrested Tuesday on Capital Hill,two parts, 5.7-8.09