Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese: Obama led trade initiative Trans Pacific Partnership aims to isolate China while strengthening corporate legal rights
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new trade agreement that President Obama and his administration is leading the charge on, well, critics say this agreement–right now, at any rate–is a lot of Asian countries but China. And people are calling it everybody but China agreement so far, at any rate. It also, critics say, is going to increase corporate rights and decrease sovereign rights.
Now joining us are two people who’ve been very active on this whole question. First of all, Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician from Baltimore who advocates for a single-payer health-care system, but she’s been very active on the TPP issue.
And Kevin Zeese. He’s codirector of It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy. He’s an attorney and was one of the original organizers of the national occupation of Washington.
Thank you both for joining us.
KEVIN ZEESE, CODIRECTOR, IT’S OUR ECONOMY: Glad to be here.
MARGARET FLOWERS, CODIRECTOR, IT’S OUR ECONOMY: Thank you for having us.
JAY: So, Kevin, kick us off. TPP is what and matters why?
ZEESE: The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been in 16 rounds of negotiations over three years, pretty much in secret except for the 600 corporate advisers that have been working with the Obama administration to develop the terms. And it’s called a trade agreement, but it’s really much more than that. If you care about internet privacy, if you care about health care, financial regulation, labor rights, the environment, all these issues will be affected by the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and they’ll give corporations more power than governments to control these issues, because profits will be the ultimate goal, much more important than people’s necessities or protection of the planet.
JAY: Which is a character of most of the free trade agreements, so-called free trade agreements, even NAFTA and some of the other ones that have been done.
JAY: Dig into parts of the agreement, Margaret, that concern you most.
FLOWERS: One of the things that’s unique about this agreement is that it has something called a docking agreement. So the intention is that this may be the last trade agreement that is ever agreed to, that it may become the template for the rest of the world trade and that other countries will then dock onto it. But they have to agree to everything that’s already been negotiated.
And where there are about 26 chapters, what we know is what has been leaked. Out of those 26 chapters, only about five of them have to do with traditional trade. So what we see in this agreement is that it’s not really about trade; it’s about creating a backdoor for corporations to get some of the changes that they want. So deregulation of the financial industry, longer patent protections for the pharmaceutical industries, internet privacy restrictions, you know, these are the things that these corporations have wanted to get but they haven’t been able to so far, and this is a vehicle for doing that.
JAY: I mean, it’s interesting. I think one of the things that TPP would do, it would prevent–if Cyprus, for example, was actually one of these countries that agreed, they couldn’t have introduced capital controls that would have stopped money leaving Cyprus when they were trying to control their banks.
ZEESE: Under the TPP, money can go into and out of countries without much control by the government. So the corporations, the big banks, will have much more control over the capital controls of a country than the country will. And if a country takes a step to try to regulate the financial industry or set up a public bank to represent public interests, they could be sued.
JAY: By individual corporations.
ZEESE: By individual corporations in a trade tribunal, which is a three-person tribunal. Most of the judges will be corporate lawyers on leave from their corporate job, putting on their robe and being a judge, deciding in favor of the corporation, no doubt, and then going back to their corporate job. And what they’re suing for is the potential loss damages, not actual damages. But we planned on making money here. Here’s how we were going to do it. We were going to–now you–we’re going to lose $10 million because of you. The country then has to pay $10 million in damages for a labor agreement, a finance agreement, consumer protection, environmental protection. Whatever it is the country wants to do, it can be stopped by a corporation suing a trade tribunal.
FLOWERS: I think an excellent example of that is what’s happening with Canada. Right now there’s a company in the U.S. called Lone Pine Industries that wants to frack in an area of Canada that’s banned fracking.
ZEESE: Under the Saint Lawrence River.
FLOWERS: So they’re suing the Canadian government for $250 million for loss of expected profit.
JAY: Now, some of this mechanisms already exist under WTO agreements and other trade agreements. Some people have pointed out that one of the important things about this agreement is in fact that it’s everybody but China, that this seems to be part of this Asian pivot of the Obama administration to kind of reestablish the United States in Asia and make America trade the center of activity, not so much China, which seems like a King Canute facing–stopping the waves or whatever it was.
ZEESE: It really puts China in a lose-lose situation. It’s not a coincidence this is happening at the same time that Obama’s moving 60 percent of the Navy into the Asian waters, the Asian pivot, which is a military pivot. This is an economic pivot. And it’s a lose-lose for China either way. If they’re excluded from the agreement, which is the current status, then they are out of a lot of trade going on in their own backyard. If they’re included, then they’re stuck with these trade tribunals in their neoliberal, privatization, anti-government, opposed to state-owned enterprises model, and the Chinese economy is based on the state-enterprise model approach. And so they would be able to be taken to court by these–in these tribunals and have their economy totally changed by corporations. So either way, China loses.
Now, the good news is–in my view, at least, ’cause I’m opposed to the TPP–the good news to me is that Japan said when they were joining the TPP that the higher priority for them is negotiation with Korea and China. That triangle to them is much more important than the TPP. And I think that’s the right move for all these Asian countries.
China’s the up-and-coming economy. We’re going to be struggling for a long time. It makes much more sense for that to happen.
So I don’t really understand why a lot of these countries even are considering the TPP. It’s going to undermine their economies. It’s certainly not going to be good for our economy. The history of these trade agreements is not good for the U.S. economy.
JAY: I mean, how might it affect some of the countries that are signing on?
FLOWERS: Well, I mean, one of the–is the tribunal, of course. So if Vietnam wants to have some sort of worker rights, you know, minimum wage or something like that, and a corporation says that, you know, that’s going to cause them to lose expected profits, and they would sue Vietnam, Vietnam doesn’t have the resources to handle that kind of a case.
JAY: One of the big issues seems to be intellectual copyright, and particularly pharmaceuticals. So I suppose a lot of it has to do with the sort of generic drug making that was going on in India. They want to stop it in India, but they also don’t want it to spread to other countries.
FLOWERS: This is of huge concern, because right now it looks like what they’re trying to do is give the pharmaceutical corporations a 20-year patent. But in addition to that, if there’s any kind of change in the medication, a new indication, a new formulation of it, that 20-year patent starts over again. So it delays the time to generics being allowed to be on the market. And that means–for these lower-income countries, it really means that they won’t have access to life-saving medications. This is a huge issue.
ZEESE: And it threatens not just the low-income countries. Japan, according to the World Health Organization, has the number-three ranked health-care system in the world. If the pharmaceuticals are allowed to keep these ongoing evergreen patents, their prices for their health-care system is going to go way up because the medications are going to go way up. And there’s even talk about–and doctors in Japan have said this–they’re worried that this agreement will threaten their health-care system. They don’t want people being stuck like we are coming to a doctor’s office and saying, what kind of insurance do you have? They don’t want to have that in Japan.
JAY: And it’s going to, again, slow down the creation of generic drugs, because the patents go on and on.
ZEESE: Exactly. So prices of health care, public health care will go up.
JAY: Yeah, which is clearly–I mean, we’ve talked about this in earlier interviews. I mean, pharma and the power of pharma in the United States is one of the biggest cost factors for why health care costs so much in the United States. And this new health-care plan did nothing, really, to control pharma.
FLOWERS: Correct. Right. Yeah.
JAY: So if you go back to, then, what you were saying earlier, Kevin, I wonder if TPP really does come to pass. I mean, is this kind of almost a propaganda show, in a way, that you get all these countries at the table and they all kind of play along, but if in the end this is going to wind up confrontationally with China, it’s hard to imagine why any of these Asian countries would get into that position?
ZEESE: Well, the Obama administration’s very serious about it. They are not playing along. They’re not just mouthing words. They’re not [incompr.] They want this to pass. This is a major gift to the transnational corporations from President Obama, his outgoing gift to them. I’m sure it’ll be great for his fundraising for the Obama library and presidential center.
But this agreement can be stopped. I think that’s the most important thing.
People did not like NAFTA, and this is NAFTA on steroids. People do not like the WTO, and this is WTO on steroids. This is a global corporate coup no matter what issue you care about, whether it’s wages, jobs, protecting the environment, stopping the use of coal, stopping fracking. You pick the issue. This issue is going to adversely affect it. So every activist in this country should be working right now helping to stop the TPP.
JAY: And what’s the timeline?
ZEESE: And the key thing on stopping the TPP is two things. First, this summer Obama’s pushing hard for a fast-track provision which essentially gets Congress out of it. It allows him to push forward without Congress [incompr.] the agreement, write the legislation to put the agreement into effect. Congress gets an up-or-down vote. No debate, no hearings, no nothing. And it keeps the people out, too. So the first battle is stop fast-track. So everyone’s got to tell their member of Congress and Senate no to fast-track.
Second, in October we expect we’ll start to see this come to the Congress, if it gets that far, for passage. And that’s going to be a key fight. We’re going to have to have a no vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or we’re going to look back at this global corporate coup that occurs in the Obama administration the way we’re looking back now on corporate personhood in the 1880s and ’90s. It’s that kind of a major shift in creating a whole new system of laws that’s going to empower corporations for generations to come.
JAY: Alright. Well, we’ll come back to this as the legislation heads maybe towards Congress. Thanks, Kevin. Thanks, Margaret.
FLOWERS: Thank you for having us.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.