The July 22, 2016, episode of CounterSpin brought together three classic interviews on corporate trade pacts. This is a lightly edited transcript.
(cc photo: Backbone Campaign)
Janine Jackson: Welcome to CounterSpin, your weekly look behind the headlines of the mainstream news. I’m Janine Jackson.
This week on CounterSpin: Few ideas are as hard-wired into corporate media as the notion that so-called “free trade” agreements of the sort we have are, despite concerns, best for everyone—and, anyway, inevitable. Given that the deals are not primarily about trade, and that what freedom they entail applies to corporations and not people, you could say media’s use of the term “free trade” implies a bias—against clarity, if nothing else.
This week, CounterSpin will revisit three clarifying interviews we’ve done on this issue. We’ll hear from Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, whose 2008 discussion of NAFTA is really Trade Pacts 101. Peter Maybarduk from Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program talked with Steve Rendall in 2013 about the impact of another deal, the TPP, on healthcare. And last year, Karen Hansen-Kuhn of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy talked about the effects of the TPP on food and farming.
Three critical discussions about corporate media and corporate-friendly globalization on today’s CounterSpin.
Janine Jackson interviewed Lori Wallach about NAFTA’s impact for the February 29, 2008, episode of CounterSpin.
Lori Wallach: “Interests that wanted to pursue certain strategies for their maximizing of profits got their protections to help them offshore.”
Janine Jackson: The Wall Street Journal had it recently that leading Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have ratcheted up their anti-trade, anti-corporate rhetoric. The Washington Post took Obama to task in an editorial for “exaggerating” job losses due to trade pacts, sniffing that such ideas were “not worthy of a candidate whose past speeches and writings demonstrate that he understands the benefits of free trade.”
But in reporting on the candidates and trade issues, the remarkable thing is not so much Obama or Clinton’s criticism of corporate-driven trade policy as corporate media’s uncritical, at times near hysterical, defense of it. What misinformation still sets the stage for this country’s global trade debate, and how could journalists redirect the conversation?
Joining us now to talk about this is Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen. Welcome to CounterSpin, Lori Wallach.
Lori Wallach: Thank you very much.
JJ: First of all, as kind of a simple question, isn’t it just a little late in the game for outlets like the Wall Street Journal to refer to arguments that are critical of existing trade pacts like NAFTA as being “anti-trade” arguments? It seems an indication of just kind of the crudity of the whole conversation.
LW: The data is in. We’ve had one model of trade and globalization implemented under agreements such as the World Trade Organization, or NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. We’ve had 15 years to see how that would work. And the data has come in, showing the United States has lost net 3 million of its manufacturing jobs in that 15-year period, and for the first time in our country’s modern history, less than 10 percent of the population is employed in manufacturing.
Why does that matter for all of us? Because the data also show that when you change out higher-paid manufacturing jobs with lower-paid service-sector jobs, wages economy-wide are pushed down.
So the government data show in real terms, US median wages are at about 1972 levels, even though worker productivity has doubled. Now think tanks that supported NAFTA and WTO are writing papers admitting that a significant contribution to that wage suppression is what they call labor arbitrage, having US workers directly competing with workers who make a dollar a day.
Why? Not through an act of God, but because agreements like NAFTA and WTO included foreign investor rules that directly incentivized offshoring—relocation of production from the US to low-wage countries—by removing most of the risks normally associated with businesses going to a developing country.
cc photo: Billie Greenwood
LW: NAFTA, WTO, they provide guaranteed minimum standards of treatment. They forbid developing countries from applying the kind of policies they used to to foreign investors. Things like: You have to use a certain percentage of domestic content, or you have to transfer technology to us. And they require that foreign companies operating in a place like China now get all the subsidies the domestic companies get, so all those huge energy subsidies. Fully 60 percent of the exports of China come from multinational corporations that have moved there for production.
Those incentives and those agreements have had these outcomes, and the American public has had it. And in fact, for these candidates simply to implement their domestic policy goals—creating jobs, tackling income inequality, dealing with the healthcare crisis and the climate change crisis—will require changes to these agreements.
JJ: Well, in light of that data and that reality, I wonder what you make of the kind of media coverage that takes the tone that it’s a “belief” that NAFTA has affected jobs. The Washington Post said that Hillary Clinton was distancing herself from NAFTA, “which is unpopular among workers in manufacturing, who believe the deal has contributed to the movement of jobs overseas.” What do you make of that kind of psychologizing of what, as you’ve just indicated, is just a hard reality?
LW: Well, as a recovering trade attorney who’s up to her ears in all the government data that proves that these agreements have had these effects, it’s infuriating, actually!
The data is very clear, and the only good news is a lot of politicians, who are having to come face-to-face with Americans who’ve lived the experience, are actually starting to, by political necessity, take steps to change the current policies, regardless of what the elite media are saying to try and convince them otherwise. But there’s still a lot of work to do.
So, for instance, Senators Obama and Clinton, they have been escalating their rhetoric against NAFTA since the Iowa primary. And, in a way, it’s excellent that they have felt the need to respond to the public’s anxiety that they’re facing all across the country. The problem is, to date they really haven’t put forth proposals about what they’re going to do. So they’re sort of feeling our pain, but they’ve only talked about adding labor and environmental standards to NAFTA, mainly, in public.
And, though important, and part of building, in the long term, a social contract for workers in those countries, that could take a hundred years, like it did in our country. The things that have to be done, which reflect not just NAFTA but the World Trade Organization, China trade, those things, such as removing the investment rules in these so-called trade agreements that directly promote offshoring, removing the ban on local preferences and “buy American” rules, in all of these trade agreements, NAFTA, WTO—that would totally gut the candidates’ proposals for green jobs, or for creating good jobs by rebuilding the US infrastructure. That is what needs to be addressed, and the candidates, just to succeed at what they claim are their own priorities, are going to have to deal with this stuff.
JJ: Is it putting those questions to them specifically? Is it that, and what else do you think reporters might do differently as we go forward, given that it looks like this is going to stay an issue in the election, to improve or uplift, if you will, the quality of the coverage around trade?
LW: Well, certainly asking some of those specific questions. And we put out an advisory about a week ago that listed questions the candidates probably don’t want to hear but will save them from not being able to, in the future, implement their policy goals. And those questions, which get to the actual “changing the terms of globalization by changing the rules” questions the candidates need to address, but also there’s now enormous amounts of data. You can go to our website TradeWatch.org, the Economic Policy Institute, the Center for Economic Policy and Research, that take the government data, have footnotes until you could choke, proving that actually these outcomes have occurred, and then showing how they are specifically connected to the agreements.
And this information may help remedy, cure, the psychologizing that you see in a lot of the mainstream media that makes it seem like NAFTA is some bogeyman that American workers are imagining is under their bed, as compared to—these are specific choices. Interests that wanted to pursue certain strategies for their maximizing of profits got their protections to help them offshore, put in specific instruments called NAFTA, WTO, that deliver a specific version of globalization. It got test run for over a decade. The results are in. It ain’t working. And the good news, there’s some very specific things you could do, were you to be president, to change those agreements to get different outcomes.
JJ: I’d like to thank you very much. We’ve been speaking with Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Find them on the web at TradeWatch.org. Thanks for joining us today on CounterSpin.
LW: Thank you.
Steve Rendall interviewed Peter Maybarduk about TPP and healthcare for the November 15, 2013, episode of CounterSpin.
Peter Maybarduk: “We’re very aggressively trying to bully countries into accepting measures that would lead to preventable suffering and death.”
Steven Rendall: On November 13, WikiLeaks released a leaked chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The TPP is a secretly negotiated so-called “free trade” agreement. The new information is the draft of the TPP’s chapter dealing with intellectual property. According to WikiLeaks spokesperson Julian Assange:
If instituted, the TPP’s intellectual property regime would trample over individual rights and free expression as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent, if you farm or consume food, if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.
The group Public Citizen has been on the TPP story from the beginning. We are joined by Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines program. Welcome to CounterSpin, Peter Maybarduk.
Peter Maybarduk: It’s good to be here.
SR: Speaking generally about the draft chapter, do you think Julian Assange is right? And could you describe some of the ways these policies, if implemented, would affect people where they live?
PM: I do think he’s right. What’s really at stake here is, it’s two very different visions of the world, one in which knowledge, information, is closed off, controlled by companies via exclusive rights systems, monopolized, and we rely on them to essentially steward the public interest. The other vision is a much more open vision, in which we collaborate and build on each other’s knowledge and promote access to knowledge and knowledge goods.
And this is tremendously important because it affects many aspects of our daily lives. It affects our freedom online. There are proposals in the agreement that would take creative and cultural works out of the public domain for a longer period of time, that would force internet service providers to act as copyright enforcers online, take down a lot of content that is in fact free speech, in fact satire or parody of copyrighted materials.
There are issues of plant and animal patents. The United States government is trying to force other countries to broadly patent and promote the exclusive ownership of plant varieties and animals, and these different sort of gene patent issues. The issue I work on of healthcare, access to medicines, access to affordable healthcare, is an issue that could really be affected by this agreement.
SR: Well, I’d like to get to that now. It’s hard to imagine anything more important than healthcare. You’re the director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines program. How would the TPP, if this draft were put in place, affect healthcare specifically?
PM: You were correct to call it a so-called trade agreement. What we really have here is a secret rule-making against public health. Worldwide access to medicines depends in no small part on countries being able to obtain generics, either locally manufactured or imported from India. This keeps costs down for cancer, HIV/AIDS. And HIV/AIDS, for example, globally we’ve been able to save about 10 million lives worldwide since 2000 due to generic competition. It would have been completely impossible if the brand-name companies had been allowed to continue to dominate, monopolize, that field. And that’s precisely what’s at stake in the TPP.
This is the US government, due to the lobbying and political influence of Big Pharma, advancing a number of proposals to expand patent monopolies and take medicines out of the public domain, make the periods for which medicines on which we all depend are monopolized longer. And it’s principally about taking the current state of the US rules, which are dominated by this lobby, and imposing them on developing countries, where it’s completely the difference between life and death for a great many people.
But it’s also the case that some of these rules, and especially one rule that we’re expecting the United States to advance very soon in this negotiation, would actually bind US consumers, would actually bind Americans to bad systems that we have now which we are trying to undo. So, for example, a very unfortunate rule was advanced in Obamacare which monopolizes new cancer drugs for 12 years. These treatments cost 10, 20, 30, 100 thousand dollars a year. We all know people who have suffered and struggled and had real troubles with their household budgets trying to find a way to pay for cancer medication.
Now, the White House, for the past couple of years, has presented a budget that seeks to reduce that monopoly period, so that we can have affordable “biosimilars,” is what they’re called. So this is billions of dollars per year at stake, and Americans’ budgets and Americans’ ability to deal with cancer and heart disease and other illnesses. So publicly the administration has said it’s trying to change this rule, it’s trying to peel back the monopolies, but in this trade negotiation, the United States is going to advance a proposal which would actually lock us into the 12-year period. Once we’ve signed the TPP with a 12-year period in it, we’d be bound by that. We wouldn’t be able to undo. We’d lose our congressional ability to overturn the bad rule.
So secretly, behind closed doors, the Obama administration is doing very different things with regard to healthcare than their stated public commitments. Rather than promoting global health, and rather than trying to reduce costs at home, we’re smashing global health. We’re very aggressively trying to bully countries into accepting measures that would lead to preventable suffering and death. And we’re giving away the store to Big Pharma here in the United States, too.
SR: The Washington Post reported on the draft chapter on November 13, focusing on how opposition to TPP has brought together unlikely allies, including the Tea Party on one hand and Public Citizen and a “high-tone gaggle of Ph.D. economists” on the other. So the word seems to be getting out. Right? I mean, there has been some coverage.
PM: I think this is a very good week for us, and we need to capitalize on it. These agreements are negotiated behind closed doors. There’s incredibly little public access. You can’t sit in on the negotiation, you can’t see the text. Members of Congress can’t see the text.
And because there are so many aggressive pro-corporate proposals in it and so many objectionable ideas, these agreements depend on that secrecy in order to pass. And the US trade representative is rather open about that fact, that they need the secrecy in order to successfully negotiate and be able to get these ideas through. And so when we have moments like this, where there’s public attention, it’s very important to advance that. Prior agreements have failed once they come into the spotlight.
SR: We’ve been speaking with Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines program. You can see Public Citizen’s work on the TPP and everything else at citizen.org. Thanks again for joining us today on CounterSpin, Peter Maybarduk.
PM: Thank you.
Janine Jackson interviewed Karen Hansen-Kuhn about TPP and food for the April 24, 2015, episode of CounterSpin.
Karen Hansen-Kuhn: “What we’ve seen in the United States since NAFTA is a dramatic increase in corporate concentration agriculture, decrease in family farms, and farmers struggling with low prices.” (Image: 3sat)
Janine Jackson: NBC News offered a little primer on the Trans-Pacific Partnership on its website in which the TPP was described as “an ambitious trade accord between the United States and 11 South American and Pacific Rim nations” whose goal is “a freer flow of everything.” Supporters, NBC News said, seek to “remove barriers to trade and boost the American economy,” while opponents are “vocal in their displeasure” because they say the proposed deal was “cobbled together in secret and sticks it to American workers.”
Well, this piece is pretty typical in the suggestion that, for one, pacts like TPP are first and foremost about barriers to trade, and then that the debate is essentially between practical people who believe in growth and special interests known mainly for yapping.
The funny thing is for all that supposedly vocal displeasure, and despite the fact that the pact is widely acknowledged as controversial, you don’t hear much of any depth in media about TPP critics’ specific concerns or their alternatives nor, it seems, of those critics themselves. April 18 was Global Trade Day; tens of thousands of people demonstrated in cities across Europe and here in the US against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the TTIP, being negotiated between the US and the European Union, with hardly a peep from the US press about those demonstrations.
Well, joining us now to talk about some of the anticipated impacts of trade pacts now currently being negotiated is Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of international strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Karen Hansen-Kuhn.
Karen Hansen-Kuhn: Thank you.
JJ: Media virtually always describe TPP as “controversial.” There’s debate over it, about fast track and a number of other issues. But beyond that label, we usually just get some tossed-off phrases: The pact will cost jobs, or it will create jobs. I wonder, can you describe with some illustration what impact you see TPP — and feel free to address the TTIP as well — the impact that you see such pacts having, particularly on something that’s come to matter a lot to many people as one way that they can connect their politics with their immediate lives, and that’s food economies.
KHK: Sure. Well, I guess I would separate that into two related pieces; one is farming and one is food. So on farming, I’ve been at this for a while, and if we look at all of the promises that have been made since the NAFTA debate, and it is this thing, just what NBC was saying, that it’s about making things flow more easily. Well, making things flow more easily, it means very specifically that foreign investors in different countries get a lot more protections. So they’re able to move production to wherever things are cheapest, and along the way, farmers lose bargaining power.
So what we’ve seen in the United States since NAFTA is a dramatic increase in corporate concentration agriculture, decrease in family farms, and farmers struggling with low prices. And so they’re told the solution is to grow more and to export. That argument is running really sour with people right now. We just had a sign-on letter last week where 113 farm organizations said no to this model. So that’s on the farm side. It hasn’t been good for farmers here or in developing countries.
cc photo: Alex Garland
On the food side, we have people taking different initiatives at the local level to change things: improving food-safety laws, implementing ambitious farm-to-school programs. All of those things, from what we know about TPP and TTIP, could be under attack. Because, again, the whole idea of these agreements is to make trade flow.
So rules on food safety, for example, would have to be subject to the test that they distort trade as little as possible, rather than saying first they have to protect public health, with trade as an afterthought. So that’s going to shape the kinds of food safety rules we get.
Farm-to-school programs are something we’re also very concerned about, and here we have some leaked text from the European Union where they’re talking very specifically about wanting to open up public procurement programs in the US. So that could mean buy-local programs, both for farmers and other industries. But, again, it would impact rural economies, it would impact what say we have, decision-making, on what’s in our food system.
JJ: So you’re saying something like the New York City system, if the municipality decides that they want to encourage regional farming and they want to do that by saying that New York City public schools, for example, will rely to some measure on locally produced farm goods, that that sort of buying-local program would be in the sights of something like this.
KHK: It seems very possible. Again, you know that we’re dealing with secret agreements, but from what we can piece together, that’s certainly something that could be subject to attack. The other thing we worry about are initiatives like some municipalities or states are considering bans on certain toxic chemicals or pesticides, like neonicotinoids, which are associated with bee colony collapse. That kind of thing, too, could get caught up in these new restrictions put on food safety and toxics regulations. Again, they’d have to say, well, of the different choices, which one distorts trade the least? Well, that really shouldn’t be our starting point.
JJ: And we have some record here in the EU as well. There is some history, as I understand it, with the United States wanting to sell beef produced with hormones in the EU, where they have policies against that. What does that look like?
KHK: Well, yeah, when I talk to folks in the EU, what I hear pretty consistently are concerns about opening up to imports of GMOs, which are for the most part prohibited, or restrictions on GMOs, restrictions on beef produced with hormones, restrictions on poultry, chicken rinsed in chlorine—all practices that they don’t want in Europe, that are the victories of local movements. And there are tens of thousands of people out on the streets at different points about those issues.
JJ: Always kind of irritating to me to hear that the secrecy that surrounds these pacts is “a sign of” something wrong, when I think the secrecy is itself something wrong. It’s not an indicator, it’s a problem on the face of it. Who should be involved in this process that is not involved?
KHK: Well, certainly they could open up the whole process and say what exactly they’re negotiating as a starting point. In the past, for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, they published negotiating texts online, and there are still three versions online where you can see where there were points of disagreement. So then you could have really citizens groups, affected sectors, dairy industry or dairy workers, say, looking at how they might be affected by a change in import rules.
We don’t have that this time. What we have are some very general statements about what they might do, and then texts that gets leaked through WikiLeaks or maybe coming from the European Union.
So it’s a crazy process, and I think what you see is more and more groups across the country, and in various countries, finding ways to get that information. But it really doesn’t have to be that way. There’s no reason they couldn’t open up the process, that they couldn’t consult on these food and farm issues with people who would need to hear about it.
And in any case, honor a notion they have in Europe, one of the founding ideas of the European Union, of subsidiarity, that decisions get made at the lowest level practical. So if a community is deciding they’re going to ban a toxic pesticide, allow room for that. Base our decision-making on things like pesticides and food safety on the precautionary principle: When there’s uncertainty, err on the side of caution.
These are the kinds of things that should be the principles we’re looking at, and, as I said, there are tens of thousands of people already getting engaged. I think we don’t see it as much in the US or as visibly, say, as in Europe. On the other hand, there were — this day of action you mentioned, there were 65 actions across the US. And there are hundreds of groups across the country focusing right now on fast track, which is very much about this issue of secrecy.
JJ: We’ve been speaking with Karen Hansen-Kuhn. She’s director of international strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. You can find them online at IATP.org. Karen Hansen-Kuhn, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
KHK: All right. Thank you.