The United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, including Australia, reached an agreement on October 5 on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest regional trade accord in history.
The agreement has been negotiated in secret for eight years and will encompass 40% of the global economy. The secret 30-chapter text has still not been made public, although sections of draft text were leaked by WikiLeaks during the negotiations.
United States Congress will have at least 90 days to review the TPP before President Barack Obama can sign it. The Senate granted Obama approval to fast-track the measure and present the agreement to Congress for a yes-or-no vote with no amendments allowed.
During Senate hearings in April, Vermont Senator and TPP critic Bernie Sanders strongly opposed its fast tracking.
Sanders, whose campaign to be the Democratic presidential candidate next year is generating huge enthusiasm as tens of thousands flock to mass meetings to hear his anti-corporate arguments, issued a statement on October 5 saying: “I am disappointed but not surprised by the decision to move forward on the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that will hurt consumers and cost American jobs.
“Wall Street and other big corporations have won again. It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multi-national corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense.”
In a sign of popular unease over the deal, Sanders' rival to be the Democrats presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, has now opposed the TPP, having previously backed it.
In 2012, Clinton said: “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field”.
After the deal was signed, however, she said it did not meet her standards for raising wages and creating jobs.
On October 6, Amy Goodman from the US-based progressive news show Democracy Now! spoke to Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, about the TPP. The interview is abridged below.
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Can you put this in the larger context of the TPP overall — who this benefits, who this hurts, who made the decisions around this and then who gets to decide whether the US approves this?
Well, the TPP, is a collection of provisions that amount to a wish list for giant multinational corporations. It's really as simple as that.
And the most important industry in the whole deal was the pharmaceutical industry, which is why the US Trade representative (USTR) was willing to hold up the entire deal to try to extract more concessions for Big Pharma.
This is a deal that was negotiated in secret over a period of five years — secret from the public in the countries that were negotiating, but not secret from the giant corporations who it aims to benefit.
The USTR has a system of advisory committees, so it shows text and runs ideas by corporate representatives from almost all affected industries. So, in general, it's reasonable to say that corporate America knew what was going on all along.
In the waning days of negotiation, the USTR made clear they were in constant conversation with industry representatives about what they were discussing. They were not in constant conversation with consumer groups or trade unions or environmental groups.
As a result, we have a deal that prioritises the needs and demands of multinational corporations, gives them special rights and special powers, and entrenches a failed development model and a failed trade model.
So what we're going to see coming out of this deal, if it goes through — and it's not a done deal at all yet — is more export of jobs from the US; more downward pressure on wages, especially in the US and throughout the 12-country region; degradation of the environment and difficulties in imposing new environmental standards; increasing pharmaceutical prices; and the creation and expansion of special powers for giant foreign corporations to sue governments when they take actions that the companies say would interfere with their expected profits.
What we're looking at is the degree to which the pharmaceutical industry can impose monopoly pricing on the entire world. And what we're calling the death sentence clause is particularly about a class of drugs called “biologics”.
These are basically biotech drugs. It's the cutting edge of the pharmaceutical industry. It's most cancer drugs. It's a number of drugs to treat arthritis and a number of drugs to treat smaller disease classes. But it's the future of the industry. There's nothing really special about the drugs in terms of market pricing. They're made differently. They're made from living cells and proteins as opposed to what are called small molecule chemical drugs, that are traditional drugs. They're slightly more difficult to manufacture.
But, at the end of the day, the issue that was at stake here is whether or not we're going to have monopoly pricing for eternity for these drugs, or when generic competition is introduced into the market.
These drugs are priced at such astronomical levels, by and large, that while they're on patent they are unaffordable in poor countries. They're quite unaffordable in richer countries, too, and we're seeing increasing levels of rationing in the rich countries. But in the poor countries, they're just out of reach.
Why is it not yet a done deal?
It is not a done deal, although allegedly the negotiations are over and there may still even be last-minute things they're working on, because in the United States, the deal has to be approved by Congress.
And we had a preview of what the vote was going to be like earlier this year when Congress gave the administration fast-track authority. That was the deal that set the terms on which a TPP or other trade deals would be voted on in Congress.
And that was an incredibly close vote. So it foreshadows an incredibly close vote that's going to come on the TPP sometime next year, in an election year, which the Obama administration was desperately trying to avoid.
The American people are overwhelmingly opposed to North America Free Trade Agreement [signed in 1994 between the US, Canada and Mexico and which were devastating to jobs and the livelihoods of people in all three countries] and NAFTA-style deals.
Now that the deal is almost concluded, we are going to eventually see the text, and we're going to have the fight. And it's going to be a really tough fight.
It's completely unclear what the timing is going to be. It will not go before the Congress before February, but it could be basically any time next year that this happens. The administration, unfortunately, because of the passage of fast-track, is going to have a great deal of control over the introduction of the bill and the timing of an eventual vote.
So we're looking at least four months before the thing finally is formally presented to Congress. In that period, and when the thing is on the floor of Congress, you're going to see a huge mobilisation in the US to demand members of Congress vote this horrible deal down.
You've got almost the entirety of the labour movement, almost the entirety of the environmental movement, almost all consumer groups, huge numbers of faith-based groups, community groups, all united in opposition to this, and it is going to become a major issue in American politics. It's going to become a major issue in the presidential campaign.
And, you know, we're going to work super hard on this, but we're very optimistic that this thing is going to be stopped and that people power will actually prevail over the interests of the multinational corporations.