Trump Signals Major Shift from 30 Years of Free Trade Policy

January 25, 2017

The new administration has not shown any indication that it wants to engage in a dialogue with those who organized against the TPP, says Ben Lilliston

The new administration has not shown any indication that it wants to engage in a dialogue with those who organized against the TPP, says Ben Lilliston



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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The Trans Pacific Partnership, TPP, was under negotiations. It was supposed to be one of President Obama’s signature trade deals. Let’s have a look.

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.

SHARMINI PERIES: Well, President Trump declared his intention to withdraw from these negotiations.

DONALD TRUMP: Everyone knows what that means, right? We’ve been talking about this for a long time, thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: By all accounts, we should be celebrating, since in all of these countries, environmental organizations, labor unions and workers have been fighting against NAFTA and TPP deals because they were arguing that these deals tilted in favor of corporations, not its citizens. But hit pause on that celebration — like all things Trump, we have no idea what’s going to replace them.

With me to discuss this from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is Ben Lilliston. He is the Director of Corporate Strategies and Climate Change for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Thanks for joining me, Ben.

BEN LILLISTON: Thanks very much for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Ben, let’s start off describing precisely what this means in terms of disengaging from the Trans Pacific Partnership. Many people objected to it in the first place, but set the climate for us that we’re in now.

BEN LILLISTON: Yeah, this is a major, major shift in US trade policy. I think over the last 30 years, you’ve seen Republicans and Democratic presidents, both push for these free trade deals and trying to expand them, include more and more countries. The TPP would have been the biggest free-trade deal ever negotiated, included major economies like Japan, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand. So, this was a really big deal that the Obama administration had negotiated and it really followed along the template of past trade deals, NAFTA and other trade deals.

So, this is a break. This is a major shift where Trump is coming in and saying those deals haven’t worked. This deal is not a good deal and I think his perspective may differ from a lot of the other critics, including our organization. But his conclusion that it’s not a good deal is the same and he’s stepping back from it. So, it’s a major signal, I think, that trade policy is going to change for the United States and a major signal to the rest of the world that the free trade model, some changes are going to take place.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, if you were listening to Donald Trump at his Inauguration, he was very stern in asserting that Washington has not been working for the average American out there and that that was going to start to change. So, in his mind this is one of those acts, where he’s going to stop the TPP and he’s going to hopefully address what people need out there, jobs and look out for ordinary Americans out there. Do you think that’s going to happen with this renegotiation, as far as we know?

BEN LILLISTON: Well, there are some troubling signs I think along that line. I mean if you look at the appointees that he’s brought in, many of them are major TPP supporters, major free trade supporters. You’ve got Rex Tillerson who just came in, in the State Department. He was a major backer of the TPP at ExxonMobil. You’ve got multiple Goldman Sacs employees both on his staff and in several of the departments, the financial industry — big supporters of the TPP. So, there’s sort of these dual messages being sent.

He met today with a number of CEOs of major multi-national corporations to talk about trade going forward. If he’s going to gear this new trade regime towards further strengthening these multi-national corporations, I don’t think it’s going to filter down to the rest of us. He has not shown any indication that he wants to engage in a dialogue with the folks who really fought and organized against the TPP. So, labor, environmental community, health community, faith community, family farm community, people who really worked against it — there’s no dialogue going on there in terms of him really trying to understand what some of the core criticisms were and how you would rethink those rules going forward.

SHARMINI PERIES: And so in terms of your organization, Ben, what do you plan to do in terms of the fight-back and to make sure there’s attention being paid to the critical issues that farmers are concerned about, how agriculture should be supported and upheld in this kind of a renegotiation, and of course, in terms of job creation, you know, what we should be looking out for.

BEN LILLISTON: Yeah, I mean, we’ve already been… The good news is a lot of the groups that have been working on trade issues for several decades, have come up with a lot of alternative proposals and there’s really good ways forward on basically giving countries a little more flexibility in how to support their farmers, how to protect their farmers from cheap imports that can undermine them. How to uphold labor rights in all the participating countries and environmental protections in all the participating countries. These are some of the things that Obama promised in TPP but didn’t actually… when you actually read the text, didn’t actually materialize.

So, there’s a lot of good concrete ideas about how to support countries and their ability to make their own decisions and their own laws, while still facilitating trade that is appropriate and makes sense. I think most of the groups who have raised issues around free trade, not against trade per se, but it’s about setting up rules that are fair, that don’t undermine workers, or farmers in the different countries, and that don’t do damage to the environment. We’re entering into this new age of climate change and really, we need to be assessing do these roles facilitate more greenhouse gas emissions? Or are they helping countries, giving them the power to set their own policy to address climate change.

SHARMINI PERIES: Well, definitely, we’re going to see some shifts and changes and I think we can pretty well rest assured that this is not going to be benefitting ordinary people. In terms of the environment, you just mentioned it, can you elaborate a little bit more on the kinds of negotiations that when TPP was being negotiated, what concerned you the most and what we should be looking out for in these sets of negotiations that might be coming up fairly soon?

BEN LILLISTON: Yeah, that’s a good question and a key issue. The big oil companies and the big fossil fuel companies are very excited about TPP, as I mentioned. The deal basically limited the ability of countries to slow down exports and imports. So, it allows them to move fossil fuel however they want between the participating countries in the trade deal. It also and this is really important, gave them special corporate rights called “investor stake dispute settlement” which allows them to sue governments if they feel like governments are putting in policy regulations that could affect their bottom lines. So, regulations around offshore drilling, regulations about drilling on public land, any kind of limitations like that, they now have those powers.

And if you look under NAFTA, those powers also exist, so you have the Trans Canada, the owner of the Keystone Pipeline suing the United States from when President Obama rejected that pipeline. And you had ExxonMobil suing several Canadian provinces when they wanted to put some restrictions on their offshore drilling. So, these trade deals are important to, you know, the biggest polluters in the world because it gives them some protections. So, this will be a key thing going forward when we look at NAFTA renegotiations — okay, are they going to get rid of this investor stake, these special corporate rights? Are they going to empower countries and let them set their own climate policy, which by definition would put in some kind of border tariffs around high energy, high greenhouse gas-emitting products? That will tell us a lot about how serious President Trump is about really creating a fair and sustainable trade system.

SHARMINI PERIES: Alright. Ben, I thank you so much for joining us today and I’m sure you’re going to be keeping your eye on this. And so we look forward to having you back to tell us more of what’s going on.

BEN LILLISTON: Great, thanks very much for having me on.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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