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  • A campaign banner opposing TPP

    A campaign banner opposing TPP | Photo: EFF

Bill Fletcher, host of teleSUR’s The Global African, interviews Symone Sanders of the Public Citizens Global Trade Watch

Below we publish an edited transcript of an interview from this weeks The Global African.

BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN:  We're joined for this segment by Symone Sanders, who's the communications officer for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, where she manages a significant new media strategy for their grassroots national and international campaigns. Welcome to The Global African.

SYMONE SANDERS, COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, PUBLIC CITIZEN'S GLOBAL TRADE WATCH: Well, hello. Well, thank you. Thanks for having me today.

FLETCHER: It's our pleasure and honor. So we're going to talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And I guess the first question I have, I've really been curious about this, Symone. The Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to be completely contrary to the messages that were being conveyed by candidate Barack Obama. So where did this come from?

SANDERS: You are absolutely correct, Bill. So, way back when on the campaign trail, when--prior to President Obama being the president, then candidate Obama, he made lots of promises regarding trade agreements. He said he would revamp new trade agreements, new ways to do trade, and to take America's trade policies to broader shores. And that sounded good. Those were great promises, because America needs a trade overhaul in the way we do trade policy. But, unfortunately, what we've seen from the administration during President Obama's tenure is a perpetuation of the status quo. These trade agreements, particularly the trade agreement that's being negotiated right now, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, is the same as NAFTA. These standards haven't changed.

FLETCHER: When I first learned about the TPP, it was actually through your boss, Lori Wallach. And I was struck by the magnitude of this trade agreement and that it was being handled in secret, total secrecy. But the other thing that struck me was the potential impact that this has on government regulations. What was the origin of the TPP?  

SANDERS: Definitely. What we know about the TPP is only what we know from WikiLeaks and leaks that have happened. And from the leaks we can see that the negotiating, the things that they've negotiated and that have made it into the TPP are no different, sometimes are even far worse than those that we've seen in NAFTA and the Peruvian free trade agreement, the Colombian free-trade, about from 2011, the free trade agreement. So you're absolutely right.

...chapters deal with things like government regulations, financial regulation, food safety, where we get our food from. Would you like to know where your shrimp comes from? Don't you want shrimp that comes from places that have high labor standards and high food safety quality standards? 

FLETCHER: So who are the forces that are behind pushing this sort of diabolical move?  

SANDERS: Friendly K Street lobbyists, Bill. The corporate community is mainly pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and, inadvertently, also fast track trade legislation is currently being debated in Congress right now, because the TPP would make it easier to further offshore jobs. There are--in communities around the country, in places, in Baltimore--Baltimore is a great example of when manufacturing jobs pull out from a community and they take their jobs overseas. Families lose out, communities lose out, workers lose out. And that's what happens when we make it easier for companies to offshore our jobs. So the corporate community, the United States Chamber of Commerce, they're all for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They want the president to get fast track so that they can sew up the TPP and make it easier to ship our jobs overseas for lower wages. Workers in Vietnam, for example, they can work for $0.60 a day. That's not going to fly here in the United States. But in Vietnam, that's okay. And companies like Nike, for example, who's notorious for offshoring and low wages, they're all for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

FLETCHER: One of the things that I found particularly scary not just with the TPP but with other free trade agreements that doesn't get discussed very much until something happens is the ability of corporations to sue governments over their legislation, and particularly over the regulations. Can you say something about that?  

SANDERS: Definitely. So, again, we know this from the chapter that has leaked, the investors states chapter, that the TPP provides for these secret tribunals, if you will, these investor state dispute and resolution tribunals that would allow governments to bring a lawsuit against another government for something that's happened in their country. So, for example, if we're in Japan, for example. Japan is one of the countries in the TPP. So, for example, under this new TPP, under the way that it's currently set up, Japan could sue the United States government if they don't like something that they've done, a regulation that we've put in place under this trade agreement. And they could sue the government, and the government would have to pay them. They'd have to either pay, they'd have to roll back their policies. But this is just another way that these trade agreements affect policy.

I'll give you an actual recent example. About a week ago, the World Trade Organization ruled that United States C.O.O.L. policy, country of origin labeling policy, which is a policy that basically says if you're food or packaging or something comes from another place, it has to be labeled as such. So when you buy, for instance, chicken from a grocery store, you might notice that it says United States, Mexico. That means that that particular calf was slaughtered in the United States, but it originally came from Mexico. And that's important, because you want to know.

Some countries don't have the level of labor standards that we would like them to have. So country of origin label is important. Consumers care about it. Everyday people care about it. I want to know where my food comes from. So it's overwhelmingly popular. And C.O.O.L. laws were passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan way. Well, last Monday, the W.T.O. said the United States C.O.O.L. labeling law is not valid. A matter of fact, they don't like it; throw it out; you can't do that anymore. So you had the World Trade Organization, the W.T.O., a separate entity, telling the United States that their policy is essentially illegal and we need to change it. So you know what the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, Secretary Vilsack? He said, well, guess we've got to repeal this law, because the W.T.O. said it's not legal. So this is one example of the way that our laws can be affected by these outside tribunals. What's so scary about the investor state tribunals in T.P.P. is they're absolutely secret.

FLETCHER: Let me tell you this question that I've been wondering for a while. So let's say that November 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders is elected president of the United States. Upon inauguration, can Sanders say, you know what, I'm sick of this, we're pulling out of the T.P.P. or we're pulling out of N.A.F.T.A.? Can they do that?

SANDERS: Well, essentially they probably could. It's not that anyone or our side of this trade battle doesn't like trade. So people love trade. Trade is good for America. It's great. But fair trade is what's good for America. So I can't speak for Senator Sanders or anyone else in that instance. But, yes, if a new elected president decided that they did not want to participate in a trade agreement, essentially they could back out. But I really think that the T.P.P. is an entity that has issues of its own. But let's be clear. The T.P.P. is not going to happen without fast track. And unless Congress grants fast track to a president, any president, particularly T.P.P. is not going to happen…..

I think what--the point that we have to--we should really be making here is we can talk about the T.P.P. all day, but unless Congress grants [the] president fast track [TPP is.] not going to happen, 'cause they don't have the votes. But unless Congress does that, there will be no T.P.P., because these other countries are currently unwilling to come to the table without fast track.

FLETCHER: Interesting.

SANDERS: Fast track is a [sticking point for Japan.] They want fast track. A T.P.P. ministerial was just canceled--and this is all throughout the Japanese media. And they canceled it because there hasn't been any fast track. There's no reason--to the negotiators, there's no reason to keep negotiating and talking about the T.P.P. unless the United States grants, the United States Congress grants the president fast track, 'cause fast track is what's needed to finish the T.P.P. There will be no fast track.

FLETCHER: If you could explain what happened a few weeks ago--I was sort of baffled when at first the Senate blocked further discussion, and then all of a sudden, within, what, two days, it got reversed and they were off to the races again. What precisely happened?

SANDERS: Definitely. So, first, like, what happened in the United States Senate a couple of weeks ago, that was like a walking-on-water miracle moment. Trade policy usually sees no barriers in the United States Senate. It's something that comes up, it passes, and it goes to the House. The fight for fast track is really in the House. But what we saw in the Senate was, again, this miracle moment where senators were like, wait, hold on. Currency manipulation is important to us, and that is currently not included in the fast track trade legislation. Other things are important to us, and we want to talk about it, we want to have a real debate...

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