Breaking ’08 Pledge, Leaked Trade Doc Shows Obama Wants to Help Corporations Avoid Regulations
A draft agreement leaked Wednesday shows the Obama administration is pushing a secretive trade agreement that could vastly expand corporate power and directly contradict a 2008 campaign promise by President Obama. A U.S. proposal for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact between the United States and eight Pacific nations would allow foreign corporations operating in the U.S. to appeal key regulations to an international tribunal. The body would have the power to override U.S. law and issue penalties for failure to comply with its ruling. We speak to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a fair trade group that posted the leaked documents on its website. "This isn’t just a bad trade agreement," Wallach says. "This is a 'one-percenter' power tool that could rip up our basic needs and rights." [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a controversial trade pact between the United States and eight Pacific nations that until now has remained largely secret. It’s called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. A chapter from the draft agreement leaked Wednesday outlines how it would allow foreign corporations operating in the United States to appeal key regulations to an international tribunal. The body would have the power to override U.S. law and issue penalties for failure to comply with its rulings.
The agreement is being negotiated by the U.S. trade representative, Ron Kirk, appointed by President Obama. But the newly revealed terms contradict promises Obama made while running for president in 2008. One campaign document read in part, quote, "We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; [or] give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors."
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier leaks from the draft Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement exposed how it included rules that could increase the cost of medication and make participating countries adopt restrictive copyright measures.
No one from the U.S. trade representative’s office was able to join us, but in a statement to Democracy Now!, they said, quote, "Nothing in our TPP investment proposal could impair our government’s ability to pursue legitimate, non-discriminatory public interest regulation."
For more, we’re joined by Lori Wallach, director of the fair trade group Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. The leaked documents were posted on her organization’s website early Wednesday morning.
Lori, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain what the documents show and what this agreement is about.
LORI WALLACH: Well, it’s been branded as a trade agreement, but really it is enforceable corporate global governance. The agreement requires that every signatory country conform all of its laws, regulations and administrative procedures to what are 26 chapters of very comprehensive rules, only two of which have anything to do with trade. The other 24 chapters set a whole array of corporate new privileges and rights and handcuff governments, limit regulation. So the chapter that leaked—and it’s actually on the website of Citizens Trade Campaign, it’s a national coalition for fair trade—that chapter is the chapter that sets up new rights and privileges for foreign investors, including their right to privately enforce this public treaty by suing our government, raiding our Treasury, over costs of complying with the same policies that all U.S. companies have to comply with. It’s really outrageous.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Lori, there’s been a quite a bit of complaint, even in Congress, about the secretive nature of these continuing negotiations. About 600 or so corporate advisers have access to information that even members of Congress don’t? Could you talk about how that has come about?
LORI WALLACH: Well, this is how you get a text and in a potential agreement that is this outrageous. I mean, this isn’t just a bad trade agreement, this is a one-percenter power tool that could rip up our basic needs and rights. How that happens is the negotiations have been done in total secrecy. So, for two-and-a-half years, until this leak emerged, people have suspected what’s going on, because, as you said, under U.S. law there are 600 official advisers, they have security clearance to see the text, they advise the U.S. position. Meanwhile, the senator, Ron Wyden, who is the chairman of the trade committee in the Senate, the committee with jurisdiction over the TPP, has been denied access to the text, as has his staff, who has security clearance, to a point where this man who has supported agreements like this in the past has filed legislation demanding he have the right to see the agreement that he’s supposed to be having oversight with. He’s on the Intelligence Committee, and he has security clearance, so he can see our nuclear secrets. He just can’t see this corporate bill of rights that is trying to be slipped into effect in the name of being a trade agreement. It’s a very elegant Trojan horse strategy. You brand it one thing, and then you put an agenda that could not survive sunshine into this agreement.
We have been able also to get some of the texts on patents, expanding patents for Big Pharma, jacking up medicine prices. And we have analysis on our website, tradewatch.org, as well as information about how to get involved, because these agreements are a little bit like Dracula. You drag them in the sunshine, and they do not fare well. But all of us, and also across all of the countries involved, there are citizen movements that are basically saying, "This is not in our name. We don’t need global enforceable corporate rights. We need more democracy. We need more accountability."
AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach—
LORI WALLACH: And this agreement is the antithesis.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read part of the comment we got from the U.S. trade representative’s office when we invited them on today’s show. They wrote, quote, "The Obama Administration has infused unprecedented transparency into the TPP negotiations. We have worked with Members of Congress ... [and] invited stakeholders to every round of negotiations where they have given presentations and met with individual negotiating teams. ... We are always looking for ways to enhance provisions on transparency and public participation." Lori Wallach, your comment?
LORI WALLACH: Well, to start with, the idea of transparency of the current negotiators is a one-way mirror. We can basically talk to them and do presentations. But as this leak shows, nothing that the public interest organizations—and it’s a huge array of organizations, from faith groups to consumer groups, environmental, labor—nothing that we have said is now reflected in the U.S. position in this negotiation, which I’m sad to say is the most extreme. I mean, the U.S. is even opposing proposals in this agreement to try and make sure countries have the ability to use financial regulation to ensure financial stability. The U.S. positions don’t reflect what we’ve been saying, but we can talk at them.
But just to put this in perspective, in the last negotiation of a big regional agreement—that was the Free Trade Area of the Americas in the 1990s, 34 countries, very complicated agreement—two years into the negotiation, the entire draft text was published officially by the governments. Here we are, three years into this negotiation with eight countries, and they will not publish a sentence. In fact, it finally leaked that they had signed a special agreement not to release any draft text for four years after negotiations are done—a secrecy agreement on top of the normal secrecy. And when asked, Ron Kirk, the trade representative, why—in the past, the U.S. has sent out draft texts. The WTO, hardly a paradigm of transparency, publishes draft texts. "What the—what’s going on?" he was asked. He said, "Well, in the past, for instance, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, when the text was revealed, we couldn’t finish it." Now, what sort of indictment is that of what they are doing behind closed doors, that merely allowing the public who will live with the results and Congress to know what’s up is going to somehow derail the plans to lock us in? Because what’s really important to understand about these agreements, it’s not about trade, and it’s like cement. Once the cement dries in these agreements, you can’t change the rules, unless all the agreement—all the other countries agree to amend the agreement.
So what we’re talking about with this leaked chapter is literally a parallel system of justice. People have domestic laws and courts, trying to defend our rights and get our needs met. Corporations would have a parallel system of private attorneys, three of them, no conflict-of-interest laws. The U.S. and the other countries would submit themselves to the jurisdiction of this corporate kangaroo court, and these three random attorneys would have the right to order the U.S. government to pay unlimited amounts of our tax dollars to corporations and investors who, A, claim regulatory costs need to be refunded, or, B, are saying they’re not being treated well enough, regardless if the policies they dislike are the exact same ones that apply to all of us. Even under NAFTA’s system, which has some of this, $350 million have already been paid out to corporations by governments, over toxics bans, zoning laws, timber rules. This is a sneaky outrage. And if people actually put a spotlight on it, we can stop it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, Lori, I wanted to ask you—you mentioned the eight nations that are involved in the negotiations. Which nations are they? And also, the issue of the way this is being negotiated, the number could expand dramatically in the future. Can you talk about that?
LORI WALLACH: Well, the reason why it is so incredibly important that this agreement be exposed is this could well be the last agreement that’s negotiated. So, many of your listeners and viewers have been involved in the sneaky way trade agreements have been used by corporations to limit regulation and to foster a race to the bottom since NAFTA. And each of these agreements has gotten bolder, more expansive in its limits on government regulation and in its granting of corporate powers. This one could be the end, because what they intend to do is leave it open, once it’s done, for any other country to join. So, this is an agreement that ultimately could have the whole world in it as a set of binding corporate guarantees of new rights and privileges, enforced with cash sanctions and trade sanctions. It is not an exaggeration to say that the TPP threatens to become a regime of binding global governance, right at the time that the Occupy movement and movements around the world are demanding more power and control. This is the fightback. This is locking in the bad old way plus. And in addition, the way that the agreement is being negotiated, these rules would require that you not only change all of your existing laws—so good progressive laws would have to be gotten rid of—but that, in the future, you don’t create new laws.
Now, the agreement now includes Australia, Brunei, New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Peru and Vietnam, as well as the U.S., plus Malaysia has now joined. And the agreement includes all of the NAFTA-style privileges that promote offshoring. But more drastically, it has all sorts of new corporate privileges, so the right to extend medicine and seed monopolies to jack up medicine prices, even the right to challenge formularies, medicine prescription group buying plans. For instance, what the Obama administration has put in their health reform bill, they are at the negotiating table behind closed doors trying to kill the right to use for other countries. Or the financial rules would have just a limit. Countries aren’t allowed to ban risky financial products or services, at the same time that we’re trying to issue regulations under financial reform. And the agreement even meddles with how we spend our local tax dollars. For folks around the country who are doing sweat-free campaigns, who are doing living wage campaigns, green buying campaigns, this agreement says, A, you can’t have local preferences, so no "buy New York" state preference to recycle money back in your state, your tax dollars, no "buy American," but also conditions like a product has to have recycled content or that that uniform has to be sweat-free. Those kind of conditions can be challenged. It is an incredible corporate power tool. It’s only gotten this far because it’s been secret. And people in the other countries don’t want it either. But our country is the one that’s largely pushing the most radical provisions, which is why it was so important for this text, which everyone can see an analysis of at tradewatch.org, to be made public, to make people aware of what’s really going on.
AMY GOODMAN: Lori, the last round of negotiations on the trade agreement took place in Dallas. While there, Obama’s appointed trade representative, Ron Kirk, spoke at an event for the local business community. The Yes Men took the opportunity to present Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas, with a mock award. This is a clip.
GIT HAVERSALL: Hello. Thank you so much for being here. My name is Git Haversall. And on behalf of the Texas Corporate Power Partnership, we are very, very pleased to announce that the U.S. trade negotiators are the winners of our 2012 Corporate Power Tool Award. I would like to personally thank the negotiators for their relentless efforts. The TPP agreement is shaping up to be a great way for us to maximize our profits, regardless of what the public of this nation or any other nation thinks is right.
AMY GOODMAN: The next round of negotiations on TPP are scheduled over the July 4th holiday weekend. Lori Wallach, can you comment on this? And also, what I assume would be President Obama’s response, if talking behind the scenes, like perhaps tonight when he’s going to be at Sarah Jessica Parker house with—with raising a lot of money—the financial sector is donating $37 million to Mitt Romney so far, the Obama administration’s haul, $4.8 million—that even his own Wall Street supporters are going over to Romney right now, so he would say he is doing better than Romney would in trying to take on these guys.
LORI WALLACH: I think that, for President Obama, there are two scenarios. One is, he has not been on top of what these negotiators are doing. This really has been under the radar. It’s so important that the text finally came out, because it sends a warning to Congress, to the public, etc., and that basically he’s got negotiators on the loose. They are many of the same people who during the Clinton administration got us into NAFTA, that recycled back into the trade negotiating team. The other alternative explanation is just the money one, which is, it is the case that this is an agreement the 1 percent loves. This is sort of one-percenter fantasy. It’s not just that on the margins and in national governments you have to keep fighting with all your money and lobbying to try and get what you want; this would lock it in for the future, indefinitely.
AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, we want to thank you very much for being with us, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. And we will continue to watch this.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, whistleblower Jesselyn Radack on what a number in Congress are calling national security leaks. Stay with us.