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The Trans-Pacific Partnership will undermine the ability of countries to control polluting and extractive industries, says Ben Lilliston

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In a speech during his visit to Laos, President Obama said that a failure to move ahead with the 12 nation Trans Pacific Partnership, TPP trade pact, would call into question America’s leadership. Here’s a clip of what he said. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: TPP is a core pillar of America’s rebalance to the Asia Pacific. And the trade and the growth it supports will reinforce America’s security alliances and regional partnerships. It will build greater integration and trust across this region. And I have said before and I will say again: Failure to move ahead with TPP would not just have economic consequences, but would call into question America’s leadership in this vital region. PERIES: Three days before, US and China officially signed the Paris Agreement on the sideline of the G20 summit on the Hangzhou. The two countries are the first two major countries. Those are the biggest greenhouse emitters to join the climate pact, bringing the total number of nations to 26, addressing 39% of the global emissions. Obama has also made it clear that action on climate change would be one of his legacies as president. In a New York Times interview on Thursday, he promised to continue championing the cost even after his presidency ends. Our next guest says that TPP would undermine global efforts to address climate change including those outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. Joining us now from Minneapolis is Ben Lilliston. He is the author of the report, The Climate Cost of Free Trade published in the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Thanks so much for joining us Ben. BEN LILLISTON: Thanks very much for having me. So Ben you took a close look at TPP negotiating document PEIRES: So Ben you took a close look at TPP negotiating documents. What is in them that would seriously compromise the Paris Climate Agreement? LILLISTON: Well there’s a few things. First of all, the words climate change do not appear anywhere within the TPP. So it’s almost as if they were negotiating this trade agreement and not paying any attention to the impacts it could have on climate change. I think that’s very true, you have trade negotiators who are lawyers trying to get the best deal for their country. They’re not trying to think about other issues of concern and climate change is one of those rising critical issues that we have to face together. So it’s not in there in anyway shape or form for one. Number two it allows countries to challenge other countries laws that they feel that they’re companies and corporations are being treated unfairly. Not only can companies challenge rules and regulations but so can corporations themselves. So many of you may be familiar with the Trans Canada case where the Keystone Pipeline owner is suing President Obama under NAFTA because they felt like as a company they’re being treated unfairly when President Obama blocked the Keystone Pipeline for climate change concerns. Now what the TPP does including 11 other countries, now allows corporations in Australia, in Japan, in New Zealand, Vietnam, other countries to challenge US regulations and vice versa, US corporations and challenge other regulations where they feel that they’ve been treated unfairly. And by unfair what they’re looking at is future profits, have the rules been changed, we’ve been investments investments in a particular company or industry like oil, like gas, and now you’re regulating those industries? They can make those kind of legal challenges through the Trans Pacific Partnership. So that’s a very basic way in which this agreement threatens to undermine countries that are trying to reach their Paris Climate goals. PERIES: So if you look at some of what has been released by way of the TPP documents, some of it sounds very glorious. Promote economic growth, support the creation and retention of jobs, enhance innovation, productivity, competitiveness, raise living standards, reduce poverty, and I could go on and on. These would be all benefits for the signatory countries. Now what have you found that contradicts these glorious claims? LILLISTON: Well we start with some of the history of past trade agreements and they’ve all made these kind of promises going back to NAFTA with the US candidate in Mexico going to the Central American Free Trade Agreement called CAFTA. Most recently the Korea-US trade agreement. There’s all be great promises that everyone’s going to benefit from this and what we see is really these trade agreements are negotiated for multinational corporations and international financial firms. They want to be able to set up shop wherever they can get the cheapest labor, access the natural resources and the best business environment and they want to be able to move from country to country. These are the entities that have really have benefited from free trade. But that hasn’t trickled down to everyone else so, the job creation track record on free trade agreements is not so good. So if you listen to the President closely when they talk about TPP, they won’t estimate the number of jobs that will be created. What they talk about is economic, there will be some level of economic growth although it is very small. But that really translates to corporate profits will increase at some level. But it’s not necessarily job creation. And when you look at the TPP what industries are we really talking about that could really benefit? Well it’s the oil, natural gas, coal industries. You have some of the biggest companies in the world, in the US, Australia, Japan is the number one importer of natural gas. So this is one of their big priorities in the TPP access to the US natural gas industry and that includes fracking and all the production that we’re seeing here in the US. But also agriculture. You’re seeing agricultural lands, agriculture in itself is a greenhouse gas emitter through fertilizer use, through methane emissions of animal production. But also the expansion of agricultural lands on to forest lands. So you have countries like Peru and Chile and Malaysia that are dealing with deforestation issues which are really important in fighting and dealing with climate change because we need to protect our forests. Instead we’re losing them and a lot of that has to do with expanded agricultural production. So these sectors are going to benefit a little bit, at least somewhat from the TPP and that sort of complete disconnect between the growth in those economic sectors and our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change really comes through loud and clear with the TPP. PERIES: Now is there any benefit to say the Asian countries that President Obama is addressing here in terms of the TPP actually raising standards of labor and environmental regulations that might help put these countries get up to speed in terms of the global markets? LILLISTON: Yea well that’s an argument that they make, the Obama administration has been making. A couple things that’s important to understand. There is a labor provision in the TPP and there’s an environmental chapter as well. The environmental chapter is very consistent with past environmental chapters that we’ve had in trade agreements. There’s nothing particularly stronger in this trade agreement than others. Labor has some more aspirational language in there but the big difference is there’s not a strong enforcement mechanism in either of those chapters like you have with the others. So the TPP’s a huge document. 5,000 plus pages. 30 different sections. But most of those sections as I described before have legal challenges. In other words, countries or even companies can challenge laws through legal means and if they feel like the other country’s violating those rules or violating the agreement, you don’t have those same kind of level legal challenge under the labor and the environmental chapters. PERIES: Ben earlier you cited the example of where this Canadian company’s taking President Obama or the US State to court over cancellation of a pipeline. Now are there any other such examples with some of these multibillion dollar corporations can take small countries to court and really put at risk if they win the national budgets of these countries? LILLISTON: Yea there are unfortunately many examples. There have been 600 such cases around the world and one example is Exxon, the global oil giant, recently challenged a law and successfully won a case against Newfoundland which is a part of Canada for offshore drilling. Newfoundland said you’re endangering our natural environment here. They had the requirement where Exxon had to give some money for research and Exxon said no we’re not going to do that, we’re going to challenge you through NAFTA and sue you and they were successful. A lot of these cases have to do with mining where there’s a mining operation set up and you find out that the water’s being poisoned or indigenous communities may be effected. This is particularly in countries in the global south and so the rules will be changed. The country will say we need to protect the water, we need to protect people that live here and the company will say hey that’s not the rules under which we set up so we’re going to sue you. So there’s a rising number of cases. Most of them around mining, energy, and I think increasingly over time we’ll start to see agriculture and forestry being mixed in there. But it’s a tool that is being used more and more by corporate interest. Both multinational corporations but also financial firms, Wall Street firms are starting to use this tool to protect investments internationally. And its not needed. You don’t need this particular provision in our trade agreements that allows corporations to sue countries. PERIES: Right it gives you a sense of who’s exactly negotiating these trade agreements by way of states. I thank you so much for joining us Ben and hope to continue this discussion with you at another time. LILLISTON: Great, thanks for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Ben Lilliston is the author of the Climate Cost of Free Trade. He has written frequently about climate change, trade and farm policy. He has worked as a researcher, writer and editor at a number of organizations including the Center for Study of Responsive Law, the Corporate Crime Reporter, Multinational Monitor, Cancer Prevention Coalition and Sustain. He’s a frequently published writer, most recently as a contributor to Mandate for Change (Lexington), and previously as the co-author of the book Genetically Engineered Foods: A Guide for Consumers (Avalon).