President Obama held a joint press conference on Sunday with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and was somewhat dismissive of critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive "trade" treaty currently being negotiated between the U.S. and Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
During the press conference the president said critics are uninformed and even believing "conspiracy theories." He said people should "wait and see what's in the agreement" before criticizing it. He also dismissed criticism because it "reflects lack of knowledge of what is going on in the negotiations."
The Negotiations Are Secret
Here's the thing. The TPP talks are secret. There are a number of "advisors" (almost all are corporate representatives) who have access to what is being negotiated but the advisors are pledged to secrecy. The public is not a party to the negotiations, nor are our representatives in Congress.
So it is not entirely fair for President Obama to dismiss the concerns of critics for having a "lack of knowledge" of what is being negotiated. And marginalizing citizens as purveyors of "conspiracy theories" just because they are concerned that the effects of this trade agreement might compound the damage done by previous agreements is out of bounds.
What We Know From Leaks
What we do know about TPP largely comes from leaks. And what has been leaked is cause for serious concern. Last year Wikileaks obtained the TPP chapter covering patents, copyrights, trademarks, industrial design and other “intellectual property.” This chapter was updated as of last August and may have improved since, but it is no "conspiracy theory" to be afraid of what was in the August version.
The leaked chapter appeared to show that the U.S. was pushing to get strong “protections” for giant telecommunications companies and pharmaceutical patent-holders. The reason this is a problem is that:
1) The U.S. Congress had recently blocked the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). But provisions similar to those our own Congress had rejected were right there in a treaty that would override US laws and allow corporations to sue our government should it again block these provisions!
2) The provisions in TPP would, in the words of Public Citizen, "... transform countries’ laws on patents and medical test data, and include attacks on government medicine formularies." If enacted as leaked the agreement "would strengthen, lengthen and broaden pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS drugs, among others, in the Asia-Pacific region." And this means much higher costs for pharmaceuticals, possibly even prohibitive costs in poorer countries.
We also know that TPP is being negotiated using a rigged process, designed from the start to benefit the giant corporations at the expense of everyone else. The negotiators come out of the corporate community and likely intend to return to the corporate community, where they will be paid incredibly well – if they play ball while in government. The 600 corporate "advisors" have special access to the negotiations while labor, consumer, democracy, environmental, human rights and other citizen advocates are kept at the perimeter at best.
The treaty will likely be rushed through Congress with a rigged "fast track" process that sets aside the constitutional responsibility of Congress to carefully consider and debate treaties. Fast track even sets aside the constitution's requirement that two-thirds of the Senate agree. All of this occurs while corporations use their tremendous wealth and power to influence what the public and members of Congress understand about the treaty.
This is start to finish a process designed to cut democracy out of the equation.
The Record Of Trade Agreements Is Terrible
Americans are rightly suspicious of more trade agreements. They have seen how NAFTA cost 1 million jobs and increased our trade deficit five-fold. They understand that it drove down wages. They have seen the incredible damage done to manufacturing by "free trade" with China, costing us over 50,000 factories and million upon millions of jobs, while undercutting the wages of everyone else.
Meanwhile these agreements have greatly benefited the billionaires behind the giant multinational corporations but have hurt companies that want to keep manufacturing and employees inside the US.
The metric of the damage done by our current trade regime is our enormous, humongous trade deficit. In 2013 it was $471.5 billion. It is as if we put $471.5 billion on ships and sent it out of the country. $318.4 billion of that went to China.
Imagine the economic effect of $471.5 billion of new orders for things made and done inside the US, and that gives you a picture of the damage. Picture all of the factories reopening, people rehired, suppliers booming, communities revived -- that is the picture of the damage done by this trade deficit resulting from these one-sided "free trade" agreements.
Then, on the flip side of that vision, imagine tobacco companies suing the US government for promoting anti-smoking campaigns that hurt tobacco profits. Leaks indicate that kind of corporate dominance would be enabled by the current version of TPP.
What To Do
Contact your member of Congress and your state's senators and let them know you are keeping an eye on this, even if the corporate media is not covering it.
And, finally, visit StopTheSecrecy.net.
The President's remarks on TPP, in full:
Even though it wasn’t directed at me, I am going to say one thing about TPP -- this notion somehow that some protests here might indicate U.S. bullying. Keep in mind, I’ve got protests back home from my own party about TPP. So there’s never been a trade deal in which somebody is not going to at some point object because they’re fearful of the future or they’re invested in the status quo. And I think it’s just very important for everybody to wait and see what exactly is the agreement that has been negotiated before folks jump to conclusions.
If you take an issue like drugs, for example, the United States does extraordinary work in research and development, and providing medical breakthroughs that save a lot of lives around the world. Those companies that make those investments in that research oftentimes want a return, and so there are all kinds of issues around intellectual property and patents, and so forth.
At the same time, I think we would all agree that if there’s a medicine that can save a lot of lives, then we’ve got to find a way to make sure that it’s available to folks who simply can’t afford it as part of our common humanity. And both those values are reflected in the conversations and negotiations that are taking place around TPP. So the assumption somehow that right off the bat that’s not something we’re paying attention to, that reflects lack of knowledge of what is going on in the negotiations.
But my point is you shouldn’t be surprised if there are going to be objections, protests, rumors, conspiracy theories, political aggravation around a trade deal. You’ve been around long enough, Chuck -- that’s true in Malaysia; it’s true in Tokyo; it’s true in Seoul; it’s true in the United States of America -- and it’s true in the Democratic Party.
So I continue to strongly believe, however, that this is going to be the right thing to do -- creating jobs, creating businesses, expanding opportunity for the United States. And it’s going to be good for countries like Malaysia that have been growing rapidly but are interested in making that next leap to the higher-value aspects of the supply chain that can really boost income growth and development.