Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, talks with Bill Moyers about the secret trade deal negotiated by leaders of the Democratic Party and its implications for labor unions, consumer groups and the environment.
ANNOUNCER: This week on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.
In Washington, big business and big money are writing the rules on trade….
LORI WALLACH: I’m an internationalist. I believe there are enormous benefits to trade. Question is, who writes the rules? Who do they benefit? And who’s in control of them?
ANNOUNCER: And, America’s housing crisis reaches from main street to wall street…we go to the heart of it…
GRETCHEN MORGENSON: The lender in the old days kept the loan on the balance sheet…Now this lender sells it to someone else. Not his problem anymore. Gets the money back to make another loan….And they have no credit risk because they have pawned off the loan on somebody else; it’s somebody else’s problem.
ANNOUNCER: And a conservative Republican wants his party back…
VICTOR GOLD: If you had told me and if you had told Barry Goldwater that we would one day have and office in the White House called the Office of Faith-Based initiative, what kind of Orwellian language is that? Faith Based initiative? That’s the office of religion.
ANNOUNCER: And Bill Moyers on Rupert Murdoch. On this edition of Bill Moyers Journal. From our studio in New York…Bill Moyers.
BILL MOYERS: There were new developments in trade policy in Washington this week that could effect you, your job and your income.
The White House and some democrats in congress claim to have created a historic trade bill. Historic because for the first time it contains provisions to protect workers and the environment. That depends, of course, on the fine print. In this case, fine print written behind closed doors back in May, and kept secret at the time. Some freshman members of Congress cried foul, saying they owed their elections to voters fed up with unfair free trade.
REP. STEVE KAGEN (D – WI): We are now operating under a flawed model. Until that model is fixed, our Nation’s jobs and the livelihoods of our constituents are in jeopardy. It’s time that the United States of America begins shipping our values overseas and not our jobs.
BILL MOYERS: Earlier this week, and without fanfare, the fine print was released. Let’s see what it means in plain English. Lori Wallach runs the Global Trade Watch Office of Public Citizen, the public interest watchdog in Washington. A Harvard-trained lawyer, she’s been through many fights over trade and is known around town as the Guerilla Warrior in battles over globalization and its effects on workers. She’s the author of this book: WHOSE TRADE ORGANIZATION? Good to see you.
LORI WALLACH: Good to see you.
BILL MOYERS: What’s going on with these trade agreements this week?
LORI WALLACH: We’ve had a deal this week, new legal text, to expand NAFTA to two, if not four more countries, bizarrely signed off by some Democrats. Expanding these agreements, even with the much-improved labor and environmental standards, is gonna be a net loss for jobs, downward pressure on wages, more unsafe imported food and products. These are not the kind of agreements the American public stood up and voted for. The good news is, they got the administration to agree to add into the agreement’s text, binding labor and environmental standards.
LORI WALLACH: The hitch is — they put those on top of the old NAFTA or CAFTA, Central America Free Trade Agreement, model. So, it’s sorta like this. You take a building that you found to be condemned. Foundation’s gone. Wall’s ca — cavin’ in. You would not wanna go in there. And then you put a new roof on it. And of course, you say, “Well, you have to fix that building before you put the roof on or it’s still comin’ down on your head.” That’s the deal that they cut. So, I want the new roof in every trade agreement in the future. Can’t walk into that building without gettin’ my wages crushed.
BILL MOYERS: Why should people out there across the country pay attention to what’s happening in Congress on trade right now? What — what’s at stake?
LORI WALLACH: We’ve unfortunately seen, because of having all this experience with the NAFTA model, what these agreements have proved to do, not my speculation, lived experience…
BILL MOYERS: Such as?
LORI WALLACH: Pressured down U.S. wages; ’cause we’re basically setting-up the scenario where we open up for competition, really labor arbitrage, our workers against workers who make on the high end in Mexico, $6 a day but a dollar a day in China. So, our wages, even if your job doesn’t leave, the biggest effect, and the economists agree with this, of trade, is pushing down all of our wages. Then there’s the job loss. We lost three million manufacturing jobs during NAFTA. That’s one —
BILL MOYERS: Since —
LORI WALLACH: — out of every six.
BILL MOYERS: — since 1992?
LORI WALLACH: One out of every six.
BILL MOYERS: But we’ve gained jobs with imports coming in, and American workers en — engaged in — in — and trade, right?
LORI WALLACH: Well, this has to do with the wages. Trade doesn’t affect the total number of jobs in the economy. It affects the kinds of jobs. So, we have sent out good jobs that pay higher wages. And we’ve increased service sector jobs that don’t have benefits and that don’t have wages. And so overall, U.S. median wages in real terms, so what you can buy, adjusted from inflation, are now at 1974 levels, despite worker productivity increasing by double. So, how much U.S. worker produces has doubled. Our wages are like they were in the ’70s.
BILL MOYERS: So, people are working harder but they’re earning less. That is, ordinary workers?
LORI WALLACH: Yes, sir.
BILL MOYERS: Will these new agreements curtail to any effect, the shipping of jobs overseas?
LORI WALLACH: Well, this is the tragedy. Because in the agreements, the stuff that didn’t get changed are the core NAFTA/CAFTA provisions, that actually —
BILL MOYERS: CAFTA is the —
LORI WALLACH: Central American Free Trade Agreement.
BILL MOYERS: Which followed up the NAFTA agreement in ninety —
LORI WALLACH: Basically, NAFTA on steroids with six more countries. That model has a core of rules that literally promote, incentivize shipping jobs away. companies went to Canada during NAFTA, even though the wages were higher, ’cause they got better treatment. You do better if you leave. Those rules, not touched by the deal that’s facilitating passage of the Peru and Panama agreements. Procurement rules, limits under domestic procurement policies that ban by America law, by local preferences, ban anti-offshoring law. Why would that be in the trade agreement? That’s undermining jobs directly.
BILL MOYERS: Aright. So, why is it in the trade agreement?
LORI WALLACH: Well meanwhile, the Labor and Environmental standards that they added, though they’re great on paper, they require President Bush to enforce them. So, you have a guy who’s shown a record of really, which is we’ll say a callous disregard for environmental and labor standards, would have to act to make those rules mean anything. But the stuff they left in the agreement is automatically enforceable of sending jobs overseas.
BILL MOYERS: So, I understand you to be saying that there is in language, some improvement —
LORI WALLACH: Yes, sir.
BILL MOYERS: For workers and the environment – but that it’s the White House, under President Bush or whomever succeeds him, who would enforce if Congress passes it off and says, “You decide how this fine print is interpreted,” in fact?
LORI WALLACH: The way the language works, it basically says countries should not fail to enforce their laws that they’re required to meet, which for the first time, includes certain core labor standards. The problem is, you have to take an action if a country’s not enforcing, to make them enforce. So, if President Bush basically spends all this time trying to weaken our domestic labor laws and not enforce those, do we really think he’s going to use an international agreement to go make another country actually match its laws?
BILL MOYERS: But this — this agreement — these agreements were negotiated in the house by Charles Rangel, who’s a Democrat, who’s the chairman of the — of the Ways and Means Committee -a very powerful committee. And he was quoted yesterday as saying that — up to 50 Democrats will vote with the Republican minority to pass it. I mean, that’s a quarter of the Democratic caucus, right?
LORI WALLACH: Well, and yes, sir, that’s kinda the heartbreak; ’cause if you think about what he’s saying in translated, what they’re talking about is reviving Bush’s NAFTA expansion agenda to facilitate passage of more Bush job-killing trade agreements by a majority of the Republican minority, and a small minority of the Democratic majority. It’s really inconceivable why the Democrats would then bring that up to pass Bush’s trade agenda opposed by their entire base, by two-thirds of their members of Congress, by the public according to the last election. Instead of going to their own trade agenda, they’re reviving his. And reviving with a minority support of the Democrats.
BILL MOYERS: Well, help us understand this. Because last fall in the November election, the Democratic base in these communities across the country were on the warpath, right, about trade. The polls I saw coming out of a lot of cons — districts had next to the war — trade was most on the mind of voters in — in Midwestern — districts and places like that, that had been affected adversely by NAFTA. So, what is — what’s happening?
LORI WALLACH: Well, what’s amazing is, it wasn’t just Midwestern. That’s what we probably expect. It was all over. The Democrats are in the majority to no small measure because of the members of Congress all over the country. Democratic freshmen ran on this issue. Being against the war was necessary. It wasn’t sufficient. The economic, really, populism issues of standing up for working Americans by pushing for a new trade agreement and holding accountable the Republican incumbents voted for NAFTA and CAFTA, that’s what won those majority-making seats.
BILL MOYERS: So, what’s happened? Maybe there are Democrats who believe in — in these agreements.
LORI WALLACH: Well, politically, it’s a catastrophe, ’cause they could lose their majority over this, just the way after NAFTA they blurred the lines in economics. And in 1994, the Democrats lost their seats, a lot of research afterwards showed NAFTA was one of the main factors.
BILL MOYERS: I remember that.
LORI WALLACH: On policy though, it’s inconceivable also what they’re doing. Because even though it was terrific they added the labor and new environmental standards, not excising the outrageous NAFTA/CAFTA core means they set up agreements that totally contradict the core Democratic agenda. What are the Democrats pushing? Good jobs with good wages, access to affordable, quality services: health care, education, a clean environment, safe food, not privatizing social security. Yet, in these agreements, which are only a little bit about trade, there are thousands of pages of rules that we have to conform all of our domestic laws to, are the antithesis of that domestic agenda.
BILL MOYERS: We’ve seen recently how vulnerable we Americans are to goods brought in from abroad. We had the toothpaste scandal a few weeks ago, tainted toothpaste from China. And just yesterday in the New York Times, big story: “Wider sales seen for toothpaste tainted in China. After federal health officials discovered last month that tainted Chinese toothpaste had entered the United States”. Do these new agreements deal with this issue of tainted food and tainted product coming in from China and other places?
LORI WALLACH: In the midst of this crisis, and let me talk about crisis my nephew’s having to have their Thomas the Tank engines covered in lead paint from China taken away. That was the recall from two weeks ago of China products, was everyone’s toy trains. It’s food. It’s products. Now, it’s tires from China. All of that requires serious redress.
The trade agreements that we’re talking about actually will limit the U.S. right to inspect. For instance, on meat. We’re required to import meat that literally doesn’t meet our standards. If it’s considered equivalent by the importing country, i.e. the people trying to sell it to us. We’re supposed to accept it, put on the USDA label, bon appetit. It’s enough to make a person a vegan. We need basically a whole new set of strong rules. And instead, the trade agreements handcuffed Congress from doing what’s needed.
BILL MOYERS: This very weekend, Fast Track, the provision that gives the President, any President, the power to negotiate and conclude treaties without the approval of Congress, expires. Is —
LORI WALLACH: And hallelujah for that.
BILL MOYERS: Hallelujah? Why?
LORI WALLACH: Fast Track, which was hatched by Richard Nixon in the early ’70s is a uniquely undemocratic mechanism that’s used to negotiate U.S. trade agreements. It is what enabled bad-news trade agreements like NAFTA, like the World Trade Organization. What Fast Track does is, it takes the Constitutional exclusive authority of Congress that the founders set up intentionally as a check and balance so that one President just couldn’t take off with our trade future, and delegates the whole thing, lump sum, well, over to the President.
So, the President, under Fast Track, can pick what countries we’re negotiating with, set the substance, sign the agreement, all without Congress ever voting. So that by the time Congress sees it, they get nothing but a yes-or-no vote, no amendments allowed on trade agreements that will set our whole future, thousands of pages. And they have to vote 60 days after the bill’s in. It’s like a legislative luge run. It doesn’t matter what you put on there. Sheer force of gravity takes the worst trade agreement right to Congress and right through — your community, rolling right over your jobs and your food safety. And so, a new way of making trade agreements that doesn’t consolidate so much power in the President, and by the way, that system also designates 500 corporate advisors to be the official advisors.
BILL MOYERS: The old sys — the present system —
LORI WALLACH: Fast Track — Fast Track — so it’s no doubt we get these very retrograde agreements that don’t benefit us. So, we need a new way to make trade agreements. And the fact that Fast Track’s finally sun setting, I say hallelujah, we very festive wake. It’s about 20 years overdue. It should be boxed and buried, go to the Smithsonian. It’s outdated technology.
BILL MOYERS: When will these issues be resolved, these present trade agreements that are now being discussed, when will they be resolved?
LORI WALLACH: Well, let me say first, many of us still pray that the Democratic leadership will see the imminent cliff and decide to turn around the bus instead of going over. If they proceed towards trying to pass these Bush trade agreements with a minority of the majority, the votes could happen either in the month of July or in the first coupla weeks of September.
BILL MOYERS: We know you oppose NAFTA, oppose CAFTA under the rules that were in play then. We know there’s a lotta concern in the country about this. What can ordinary people across the country do about — about what’s happening in — in — in Washington right now, on trade, whether they’re for or against what’s happening?
LORI WALLACH: Well, the first thing to keep in mind is, these agreements did not come down from God. From Mt. Sinai did not come in extra tablet called NAFTA. These are just the choice and policies of particular people. So, number one, get informed about what it is. It’s not inevitable. It’s not . It’s one version. Number two — and you can do that at our website, TradeWatch.org. Lots —
BILL MOYERS: We’ll —
LORI WALLACH: — of analysis.
BILL MOYERS: — we’ll link to that on PBS.org.
LORI WALLACH: And it’s everything from full-length, multi-footnote reports to just a fact sheet about what does it mean for your family’s food. Second thing, though, is whatever your opinion is, ’cause you should make one, this is important for your future, go talk to your members of Congress about it. Go talk in your community. Talk to-
BILL MOYERS: They’re coming home next week, Fourth of July.
LORI WALLACH: Next week is open season, in the sense that you don’t need a written appointment. They’ll be in parades. As they’re waving to you, come on up, shake their head. Give ’em your sense of what you want them to do or no, but what you think about these agreements, what you want, what you don’t want, what your concerns are.
BILL MOYERS: Lori Wallach, we’ll be having you back as this battle continues through the fall.
This transcript was entered on May 21, 2015.