One of the world's biggest multinational trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been signed by 12 member nations in New Zealand and will now undergo a two-year ratification period in which at least six countries must approve the final text for the deal to be implemented. The Trans-Pacific Partnership encompasses 12 Pacific Rim nations, including the United States, and 40 percent of the world's economy. Opponents say it will benefit corporations at the expense of health, the environment, free speech and labor rights. Activists have kicked off a worldwide series of protests around the signing of the trade pact, including a nonviolent blockade of the convention center in Auckland where the signing took place. A Maori tribe refused a request to perform at a welcome ceremony for trade ministers, saying the TPP threatens sovereignty. Meanwhile, the White House has warned Congress that a delay in ratifying the deal will cost the economy. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the Obama administration is doing everything in its power to move it forward. But our guest, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, argues, "We have to make sure every member of Congress says there's no way, we're not meant to do this." The deal has also become a campaign issue, and Wallach notes, "There's no presidential candidate in any state polling over 5 percent who supports the TPP."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the TPP.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: One of the world's biggest multinational trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been signed by 12 member nations in New Zealand. It will now undergo a two-year ratification period in which at least six countries must approve the final text for the deal to be implemented. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key applauded the deal at the signing ceremony in Auckland.
PRIME MINISTER JOHN KEY: The Trans-Pacific Partnership ultimately represents a giant vote of confidence in an optimism for the future prosperity of our economy and our people. Today is a very, very important day for the 12 countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Trans-Pacific Partnership encompasses 12 Pacific Rim nations, including the United States, and 40 percent of the world's economy. Opponents say it will benefit corporations at the expense of health, the environment, free speech and labor rights. Activists have kicked off a worldwide series of protests around the signing of the trade pact, including a nonviolent blockade of the convention center in Auckland where the signing took place. A Maori tribe refused a request to perform at a welcome ceremony for trade ministers, saying the TPP threatens sovereignty. Over the weekend, thousands of Malaysians demonstrated against plans to join the trade pact.
Here in the US, the White House warned Congress that a delay in ratifying the deal will cost the US economy. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the Obama administration is doing everything in its power to move it forward.
MICHAEL FROMAN: We are working with our stakeholders. We're working with members of Congress. We're working with the leadership of Congress, educating everybody as to what's in the agreement, addressing their questions and concerns. And I am confident at the end of the day, because of the strong benefits to the US economy, which have been estimated to be over $130 billion a year of GDP growth, as well as more than $350 billion of additional exports, that members of Congress will see the benefits for their constituents and it will have the necessary bipartisan support to be approved.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has become a major issue on the campaign trail. During a town hall meeting on Wednesday night with Democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders spoke against the trade pact and suggested his rival, Hillary Clinton, has flip-flopped on the issue.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Virtually all of the trade unions and millions of working people understand that our trade policies - NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China, etc. - have been written by corporate America, and the goal of it is to be able to throw American workers out on the street, move to China and other low-wage countries, and bring their products back into this country. And that's one of the reasons why the middle class of this country and the working class is struggling so hard. Secretary Clinton has been a supporter in the past of various trade policies - NAFTA and PNTR with China. Reluctantly, and after a lot of pressure on her, she came out against the TPP, and I'm glad that she did.
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton advocated for the TPP agreement while she was secretary of state, arguing it would set a, quote, "gold standard" for trade accords. However, she did come out against the deal shortly after it was completed last year.
For more, we go to Washington, DC, where we're joined by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and the author of The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority.
Lori, welcome back to Democracy Now! The significance of the signing yesterday? And what happens next?
LORI WALLACH: Well, the signing locks the legal text, so, in a sense, it's the end of negotiations. But it's really just the beginning of the fight. The TPP is a 5,000-page doorstop, unless Congress approves it and then whomever is president signs it. So, the first thing all of us who are concerned about TPP need to do is make sure that every member of Congress is now publicly saying they're against it, they will not support this agreement. There's no more time for generalities or vague statements. There's a signed text now, so they have to take a decision.
That agreement may or may not even be sent to Congress for approval in this Congress, because right now there's been enough pushback that there isn't a clear majority in support, particularly in the House of Representatives. So it could also very well be that whomever is now running for president - Democrats and Republicans alike - they'll be the ones, one of them, who will be deciding next year whether or not to even send the agreement to Congress. And if Congress were to take it up on their own, whomever is president will have to decide whether to sign it and enact it. So, for everyone, basically, now is the time to make sure every Democratic and Republican candidate for president says what he or she would do, were he or she president and the agreement was their responsibility.
As well, we have to make sure every single member of Congress says, "No way, we're not going to do this." And then, that's the end of the TPP. It can only go into effect, the way it's written, if both the US and Japan both approve it, plus four other countries. So, it's really on us.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lori Wallach, could you tell us a little about what some of the concerns are about the TPP?
LORI WALLACH: Well, the TPP includes the kind of language that was in NAFTA that makes it easier for big corporations to offshore more American jobs. There are literally incentives for job offshoring. The TPP also would push down our wages for the jobs that would be left, because it would pit American workers more directly in competition with those in Vietnam who make less than 65 cents an hour.
The TPP includes the new monopoly rights for big pharmaceutical companies that would raise medicine prices. In the developing country members of TPP, that could be a death sentence. For people in the US, it's going to mean higher prices. And there are even provisions that would allow the pharmaceutical firms to challenge decisions by Medicare and Medicaid vis-à-vis what kinds of medicines they'll reimburse. They try and focus on generics to keep the price down.
The TPP would flood us with more imported unsafe food. For instance, it includes Malaysia and Vietnam. They send us a lot of shrimp and other seafood. Right now, a large percentage of it, that is inspected, gets rejected for a lot of different dangerous things. But under the TPP, those inspections could be challenged as an "illegal trade barrier."
Plus, the TPP would expand the outrageous investor-state system. Those are those tribunals where a foreign corporation can sue the US government, going around our courts, going around our laws, and demand cash compensation from us taxpayers for any law they think violates their new TPP privileges and rights as a foreign investor. And then they get compensated for lost future profits. Everyone saw the XL pipeline fight start. TransCanada is demanding $15 billion under NAFTA. That case is just the tip of the iceberg, because the TPP would allow 9,500 more Japanese, Australian and other companies to use that kind of regime against our domestic laws. So that's a snapshot of what it would mean if it went into effect. There's a lot more.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in a written statement Wednesday, President Obama said the TPP, quote, "includes the strongest labor standards and environmental commitments in history - and, unlike in past agreements, these standards are fully enforceable." Lori Wallach, your response to that?
LORI WALLACH: Well, first of all, with respect to the environmental standards, that's just objectively false. And it's really disappointing that the president would say that. For instance, Congress forced President Bush, the second one, to put into his trade agreements environmental chapters that were fully enforceable. So, since Bush, that's been the standard, enforceable labor and environmental chapters, with the same kind of enforcement as some of the commercial provisions in the agreement. But President Bush was forced to put into the agreement the enforcement of seven different major multilateral environmental agreements. So those were the standards of the agreement. You had to adopt and enforce in your domestic law those seven big environmental treaties.
The TPP rolls that back. The other countries wouldn't have it - one - one of the seven environmental agreements. So the entire standards enforced just went from this down to this one set of standards. And the other environmental rules that replace the enforceable treaties are things like "We shall strive to reduce death and destruction of marine mammals." The "shall strive" standard is not enforceable, as compared to there used to be a treaty on marine mammals. That was an enforceable "we shall not kill dolphins" standard. So, just objectively, the environmental chapter is rolled back. And that's why a lot of the environmental groups that the administration had touted would support the TPP came out against it -
AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach -
LORI WALLACH: - NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife.
AMY GOODMAN: We have less than a minute, but you mentioned the positions of the presidential candidates. I mean, this has been interesting, Barack Obama joining with the Republicans in Congress to support this. But you have Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, supported it, now, under pressure from Bernie Sanders, has said, well, she would have to see the agreement, although has raised serious questions about it now. Bernie Sanders strongly against. Donald Trump says he's against. What are the positions of the other candidates?
LORI WALLACH: Well, what's very interesting is there is no presidential candidate who's polling over 5 percent in any state who says he or she is for the TPP. What that person would do, were they elected, I think, is an open question, and we need to all, as citizens, get clearer, stronger commitments from all the candidates - for president, everyone who's running for Congress - about what he or she would do when directly confronted with the agreement. And so, for the presidential candidates, the standard we need to get pledged to is: "If I am president, I will not sign it, if it's not signed" - now it's signed. "I will not send it to Congress for approval. I would not sign the implementing legislation, were Congress to approve it." Those two - I will not send it, I will not sign it - is the presidential standard now that means something. And that is what we have to have all of the candidates saying. Right now, some of them - they've all said - those who are doing well have all said they're against it. Whether or not all of them really would not send it to Congress and not sign it if Congress passed it is what we have to find out next.
AMY GOODMAN: Can it be reopened?
LORI WALLACH: That's a very interesting question, because the answer is yes, politically, it can be reopened. If it can't get passed, it will have to be reopened. Or alternatively, it will just become a 5,000-page doorstop.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lori Wallach, I want to thank you for being with us, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. Thanks for joining us. Of course, we'll continue to follow one of the largest trade agreements in the world.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Washington. The Flint water hearings happened yesterday. And a Democracy Now! exclusive: What happens to prisoners in Flint, hundreds of them? Were they forced to shower in the polluted water, to drink it? Stay with us.