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  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

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« February 2017 | Main

March 24, 2017

Pharmaceutical Giant Threatens to Drag Government Before Corporate Tribunal for Trying to Make Essential Cancer Drug Accessible

Novartis Battle Against Colombian Government Highlights the Threats to Public Health Posed By the Outrageous Investor-State Dispute Settlement Regime and Bad “Trade” Deals

By: Haytham Hashem, GTW Intern

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis appears to have used trade and investment agreements to launch a legal and political pressure campaign against the government of Colombia’s efforts to make a Novartis leukemia drug accessible to cancer patients.

The drug, imatinib, also known as Gleevec in the United States, is a chemotherapy medication used to treat several forms of leukemia. A preferred choice for many leukemia patients and their doctors, imatinib is designated an “essential medicine” by the World Health Organization due to its record of effectiveness and safety. The drug must be taken daily, with the duration of treatment typically a minimum of 36 months, although courses commonly continue for five or more years.

Imatinib has led global sales for Novartis, generating $4.6 billion in 2015.

Currently, the medicine costs $15,000 per patient per year in Colombia, a country with a per capita GDP of just $6,105. Colombian civil society groups asked their government to issue a compulsory license for the medicine. This would end Novartis’ current monopoly rights to produce the drug and authorize generic competition, the most effective means of reducing price. A Colombian legislative committee urged the Minister of Health to declare a matter of public interest, a key procedural step toward allowing competition from generics.

Novartis and U.S. government representatives pressured Colombia not to issue the compulsory license. Colombia instead followed a more conservative course toward modest price controls. The Colombian Ministry of Health issued the public interest declaration, but indicated that a compulsory licensing would only be employed in case of acute shortage.

Nevertheless, last year Novartis provided formal notice of a dispute against the Colombian government using the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system under the Swiss-Colombia Bilateral Investment Treaty. That agreement includes ISDS provisions similar to those found in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The period for trying to resolve the dispute expired in the end of 2016. In late December 2016, the Health Ministry announced that, in accordance with the public interest, price would go down by some 44 percent. Due to the secretive nature of ISDS cases, Novartis’ next steps in the ISDS case — and the specific charges against Colombia — are unknown.

Novartis isn’t the first drug company to use the extraordinary rights in trade and investment treaties to challenge governments’ medicine pricing policies: Eli Lilly attempted to use NAFTA to demand $450 million from Canadian taxpayers over Canadian courts’ decisions that the firm’s monopoly patent rights for two drugs did not satisfy the country’s standards to obtain a patent.

ISDS empowers multinational corporations to sue governments before panels of three corporate lawyers. These corporations need only convince the corporate lawyers that a law or safety regulation violates their new investor rights. The corporate lawyers can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by taxpayers, including for the loss of expected future profits the corporations claim they would have earned if the domestic policy was never enacted. The corporate lawyers’ decisions are not subject to appeal and the amount they can order taxpayers to give corporations has no limit.

Public backlash against ISDS was one of the primary reasons that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could not obtain majority support in the U.S. Congress and negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have been sidelined.

Novartis’ threatened ISDS claim appears to be just one element of its extreme pressure tactics to strong-arm the Colombian government. A shocking, leaked letter from last year (English available here) from the Colombian Embassy in Washington, D.C., to the Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs discusses mounting political pressure from U.S. Senate staff, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), and unnamed pharmaceutical companies to dissuade Colombia from moving forward to make the leukemia drug more accessible to those who needed it.

The leaked diplomatic communication warns that Colombia’s actions to lower the drug’s price could risk U.S.-Colombia relations, Colombian membership in the TPP, and trigger consequences under the 2012 Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Threatening Colombia’s potential membership in the TPP over an access to medicines effort was particularly perverse, given that Doctors Without Borders called the TPP “the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries.”

Perhaps most disturbingly, the Colombian Embassy was sufficiently alarmed by the pressure from the United States to twice remark that it was concerned that proceeding with the compulsory license would put at risk the $450 million committed for President Obama's support for Paz Colombia, the peace initiative working to end the devastating 50 year-long Colombian conflict that has claimed nearly a quarter of a million lives — mostly civilian.

In response, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) wrote to then-USTR Michael Froman, describing the situation and condemning “any efforts to intimidate and discourage Colombia’s government from taking measures to protect the public health in a way that is appropriate, effective, and consistent with the country’s trade and public health obligations.” They pointed out that “compulsory licenses are consistent with Colombia’s International trade obligations and are a legitimate means to ensuring access to medicines.”

Access to medicine experts believe that Novartis is most focused on setting a precedent in the Colombia case, rather than focused on direct financial losses with respect to the drug’s sale in Colombia. The Colombian patent for imatinib is set to expire in 2018. There are an estimated 2,000 Colombian users of imatinib. Factoring the initial 2016 Ministry proposed price cut of 50 percent (to about $7,500 per year), would yield a total difference of about $27 million over two years.

That is not an insubstantial amount of money. But in 2014, Novartis’ total revenue was $53.6 billion, twice as much as Colombia’s public and private healthcare expenditures combined (GDP for reference).

Of course, the favored refrain from pharmaceutical companies — from Mylan’s EpiPen price-gouging CEO to the infamous Martin “Pharma Bro” Shkreli — is that high profits are necessary to fund research on new drugs. However, we know that is not true across the industry. In 2014, Novartis spent nearly 50 percent more on sales and marketing than it did on research and development.

Furthermore, Novartis’s development costs for imatinib were relatively low. And Novartis did not develop imatinib on its own. Imatinib is the product of collaborations and shared funding arrangements between charities, public agencies and Novartis, which benefited from regulatory exemptions and now government-granted monopoly patents to produce the drug that facilitates billions in corporate earnings.

Novartis’ ISDS threat against Colombia is just one more example of why the expansion of corporate power via ISDS is one of the most dangerous components of our broken trade model.

Fortunately, the TPP, which would have drastically expanded ISDS liability by empowering tens of thousands of additional corporations to use the process, was defeated by thousands of diverse organizations representing working people united across borders.

But we must stop all ongoing negotiations that would expand ISDS, such as for a U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty, and replace past trade and investment deals, such as NAFTA and the U.S.-Colombia pact.

The U.S. national consumer, environmental, faith, and labor coalition, Citizens Trade Campaign, lists the removal of ISDS as one of its primary demands for NAFTA replacement.

For more on ISDS, see Public Citizen’s selection of case studies of ISDS attacks against public interest protections here, and summaries of all ISDS cases under U.S. free trade agreements here.

March 15, 2017

On Unhappy Fifth Anniversary of U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, Deficit With Korea Has Doubled as U.S. Exports Fell, Imports Soared

President Trump Appoints a Leading Promoter of Korea Pact as White House Special Assistant for Trade and Goes Silent on Deal After Decrying ‘Job-Killing Trade Deal With South Korea’ on Stump.

WASHINGTON, D.C. –President Donald Trump has been conspicuously silent about the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) since taking office, so whether the administration comments on the pact’s March 15 fifth anniversary is being closely watched. Trump spotlighted the “job-killing trade deal with South Korea” in his nomination acceptance speech and on the stump, where he also often noted “this deal doubled our trade deficit with South Korea and destroyed nearly 100,000 American jobs.”

 Trump’s approach to the pact was called into question when he appointed one of the Korea FTA’s most persistent promoters, Andrew Quinn, to be special assistant to the president for international trade, investment and development. When the deal was initially completed in 2007, Quinn, who played a role in FTA negotiations as counselor for economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, declared: “It's a great agreement” that “demonstrated the effectiveness of the model, i.e., a comprehensive high-standard agreement.” When Quinn later served in the Obama White House National Security Council as director for Asian economic affairs from September 2010 to August 2012, he worked on the ratification of the Korea FTA. He most recently served in the Obama administration as the deputy lead negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“Our trade deficit with Korea doubled under this deal, so it’s not surprising Trump spotlighted it as a job-killer during his campaign. But voters who supported him because they thought he’d do something to reverse the damage of this and other deals will be furious if he fails to act, and more so when they learn that the very ‘insiders’ he criticized on the stump are calling the shots,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The agreement, sold by the Obama administration with a “more export, more jobs” slogan, had already resulted in the doubling of the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea by its fourth year, as U.S. exports declined 10 percent ($4.5 billion) and imports from Korea increased 18 percent ($10.8 billion), resulting in a trade deficit of $31.6 billion relative to one of $15.9 billion in the 12 months before the pact went into effect on March 15, 2012. That deficit increase with Korea came in the context of the overall U.S. trade deficit with the world decreasing by 2 percent. Meanwhile, the U.S. service sector trade surplus with Korea has increased by only $2 billion from 2011 to 2015, a growth rate of 29 percent that is notably 64 percent slower than our services surplus growth over the four years before the FTA went into effect. In the 10 months of available trade data since the FTAs full fourth year, the goods deficit with Korea has totaled $25.5 billion compared with $25.3 billion in the comparable period a year ago. Goods trade data for the full fifth year of the deal will be released May 4 and service sector data in October.

The division among Trump  staff over trade policy was on display in the only Trump administration comment on the Korea FTA, which came in the March 1 President’s Trade Agenda report that reflects the views of Trump’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: “Further, the largest trade deal implemented during the Obama Administration – our free trade agreement with South Korea – has coincided with a dramatic increase in our trade deficit with that country. From 2011 (the last full year before the U.S.-Korea FTA went into effect) to 2016, the total value of U.S. goods exported to South Korea fell by $1.2 billion. Meanwhile, U.S. imports of goods from South Korea grew by more than $13 billion. As a result, our trade deficit in goods with South Korea more than doubled. Needless to say, this is not the outcome the American people expected from that agreement. Plainly, the time has come for a major review of how we approach trade agreements. For decades now, the United States has signed one major trade deal after another – and, as shown above, the results have often not lived up to expectations.”

Despite the Korea FTA including more than 10,000 tariff cuts, 80 percent of which began on Day One:

  • The U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea increased 99 percent, or $15.4 billion, in the first four years of the Korea FTA (comparing the year before it took effect to the fourth year data) and in the 10 months of its fifth year is on track to beat the fourth year deficit. Nearly 80 percent of the deficit is in the automotive sector. Record-breaking U.S. trade deficits with Korea have become the new normal under the FTA – in 47 of the 48 months since the Korea FTA took effect, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has exceeded the average monthly trade deficit in the four years before the deal.

  • Since the FTA took effect, S. average monthly exports to Korea have fallen in 10 of the 15 U.S. sectors that export the most to Korea, relative to the year before the FTA. Exports of machinery and computer/electronic products, collectively comprising 27.8 percent of U.S. exports to Korea, have fallen 21.6 and 8.2 percent respectively under the FTA.

  • U.S. exports to Korea of agricultural goods have fallen 19 percent, or $1.4 billion, in the first four years of the Korea FTA despite the administration’s oft-touted point that almost two-thirds of U.S. agricultural exports by value would obtain immediate duty-free entry to Korea under the pact. U.S. agricultural imports from Korea, meanwhile, have grown 34 percent, or $123 million, under the FTA. As a result, the U.S. agricultural trade balance with Korea has declined 22 percent, or $1.5 billion, since the FTA’s implementation. The Obama administration promised that U.S. exports of meat would rise particularly swiftly, thanks to the deal’s tariff reductions on beef, pork and poultry. However, U.S. exports to Korea in each of the three meat sectors have fallen below the long-term growth trend since the Korea FTA took effect. Compared with the exports that would have been achieved at the pre-FTA average monthly level, U.S. meat producers have lost a combined $62.5 million in poultry, pork and beef exports to Korea in the first four years of the Korea deal – a loss of more than $5 million in meat exports every month.

    • Despite the promises made by U.S. officials that the pact would enhance cooperation between the U.S. and Korean governments to resolve food safety and animal health issues that affect trade, South Korean banned nearly all imports of American poultry at the beginning of 2015 due to several bird flu outbreaks in Minnesota and Iowa. Comparing the FTA’s fourth year to the year before it went into effect, U.S. poultry producers have faced a 93 percent collapse of exports to Korea – a loss of nearly 100,000 metric tons of poultry exports to Korea. U.S. beef exports are finally nearing pre-FTA levels after declining an average of 11 percent during the first three years of the agreement. U.S. pork exports have also nearly recovered to pre-FTA levels after falling by an average of 16 percent in the first three years of the agreement.

  • U.S. goods exports to Korea dropped 10 percent, or $4.5 billion, under the Korea FTA’s first four years. In the 10 months of data since then, U.S. goods exports to Korea decreased by 1.4 percent or $483 million, relative to the same 10-month period in the previous year.

  • While U.S. goods imports from the world decreased by 6 percent, U.S. goods imports from Korea increased by 18 percent, or $10.8 billion, during the FTA’s first four years. In the 10 months of data since then, U.S. goods imports from the world decreased by 2 percent, while U.S. goods imports from Korea remained at the high levels of the period in the previous year.

Graphskoreafta


The auto sector was among the hardest hit: The U.S. trade deficit with Korea in passenger vehicles grew 66 percent in the pact’s first four years. In the 10 months since then, the U.S. trade deficit in vehicles has increased an additional 2 percent, relative to the same 10-month period in the previous year.
U.S. imports of passenger vehicles from Korea has increased by 69 percent, or by an additional 597,607 vehicles by the fourth year of the Korea FTA in addition to the 862,789 vehicles sold to the United States by Korea before the FTA. This import flood dwarfed the 36,580 increase in U.S. passenger vehicles that the United States exported to Korea by the fourth year of the pact. Even so, expect defenders of the agreement to say U.S. auto exports have grown faster than Korean auto exports or that U.S. auto exports to Korea have tripled – without mentioning that this figure just represents the addition of the 36,580 vehicles from the low pre-FTA sales number of 14,284 U.S. vehicles sold in Korea without mentioning that on balance the United States has suffered a 66 percent expansion of our auto trade deficit with Korea.

March 01, 2017

Bait & Switch: Trump Trade Plans to “Bring American Jobs Back” as Promised in Campaign Notably MIA in Speech

Statement of Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

“How will this speech be received by the voters who sent Trump to the White House? Glaringly MIA was even a vague plan to deliver on the endless campaign promises to bring American jobs back with a new trade policy while highly visible was Trump’s cabinet packed with former Wall Street and other corporate elites including those responsible for past American job offshoring. 

Trump’s silence on trade plans to bring back American jobs and the cabinet packed with former Wall Street and other corporate elites sitting in the front row sure is not the “clear the swamp” administration that voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania were expecting when Trump promised the end of business as usual in Washington.”

BACKGROUND: After campaigning relentlessly on a “get tough on China” trade mantra, one of Trump’s only first-day promises that was not fulfilled was declaring China a currency manipulator. Trump notably dropped any reference to this promise in the speech and also failed to clarify what happened to one of the widely expected first-day executive orders to terminate negotiations for a U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT.) The treaty replicates key aspects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), pacts that Trump loves to bash.

Even Trump’s standard line about renegotiating NAFTA was missing from this speech. The only reference to action on trade was touting his formal burial of the TPP, a deal that was already dead before Trump was elected given it had failed to generate majority congressional support in the ten months after it was signed.

We released a short video that suggests what has happened to Trump’s trade promises: Goldman Sachs. The Wall Street firm Trump loved to bash on the campaign trail now has a weighty presence in the senior ranks of the Trump administration. The firm also happens to be the Wall Street leader lobbying for the China treaty. And it was a grand booster of the TPP. And it supported NAFTA.

A 2016 Freedom of Information Act request revealed Trump’s National Economic Council chair Gary Cohn – previously the No. 2 official at Goldman Sachs – discussing how to move the China BIT and the TPP with Obama U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman. When ethics experts raised concerns about Cohn's recent stunning $285 million Goldman Sachs exit payment, Cohn said he would recuse himself from any matters related to Goldman Sachs. Does this include the China BIT? Or has Cohn already managed to derail the expected executive order ending negotiations on the China treaty?

Meanwhile, it was Goldman Sachs alum and now Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who last week explained why there’s been no action on China currency, announcing that the administration is not ready to make any judgements on China currency now and that Treasury would undertake a broad review of currency issues using its regular procedures. The next Treasury currency report is due in April. 

The next day, Trump declared that China was the “grand champion at manipulating its currency” and declared when visiting manufacturing CEOs that action would be taken to combat China’s “$500 billion” U.S. trade deficit. Hmm... that vague line did not even make it into the speech.

The China BIT would make it easier to offshore more American jobs to China. It also would give Chinese firms broader rights to purchase U.S. firms, land and other assets and newly expose the U.S. government to demands for compensation from Chinese firms empowered to attack U.S. policies in extra-judicial tribunals. Everything Trump campaigned against...

Joint Session Speech Mystery: Has Goldman Sachs Wing of Administration Derailed Trump’s China Trade and Jobs Plans?

Will Tuesday night’s address to Congress reveal just how President Trump plans to change U.S. trade policy to "bring jobs back to America”? Polling suggests the jobs-trade nexus is one of the issues on which Trump has popular support amid sagging approval ratings.

Given that recently released 2016 trade data shows that our $347 billion goods trade deficit with China represents almost 50 percent of our global goods trade deficit, what happened to the “get tough on China” trade mantra from the campaign? There’s been a lot of administration talk about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). However, Trump’s promises to bring down the U.S. trade deficit and create more U.S. manufacturing jobs require attention to China trade.

Yet, one of the only first-day promises included in Trump’s Contract with the American Voter that was not fulfilled was declaring China a currency manipulator. The executive order flurry has not included the widely expected termination of negotiations for a U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT.) The treaty replicates key aspects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the NAFTA pacts that Trump loves to bash.

The China BIT, started by the Bush administration and almost completed by the Obama administration, would make it easier to offshore more American jobs to China. It also would give Chinese firms broader rights to purchase U.S. firms, land and other assets and newly expose the U.S. government to demands for compensation from Chinese firms empowered to attack U.S. policies in extra-judicial tribunals. Everything Trump says he is against, so what gives?

Maybe Trump will explain his MIA China trade strategy in tomorrow’s speech? We released a short video today that suggests an answer: Goldman Sachs. The Wall Street firm Trump loved to bash on the campaign trail now has a weighty presence in the senior ranks of the Trump administration. The firm also happens to be the Wall Street leader lobbying for the China treaty. Not exactly what those voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania were expecting when Trump promised the end of business as usual in Washington.

A 2016 Freedom of Information Act request revealed Trump’s National Economic Council chair Gary Cohn – previously the No. 2 official at Goldman Sachs – discussing how to move the China BIT and the TPP with Obama U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman. When ethics experts raised concerns about Cohn's recent stunning $285 million Goldman Sachs exit payment, Cohn said he would recuse himself from any matters related to Goldman Sachs. Does this include the China BIT? Or has Cohn already managed to derail the expected executive order ending negotiations on the China treaty?

Meanwhile, it was Goldman Sachs alum and now Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who last week explained why there’s been no action on China currency: “[W]e have a process within Treasury … and we’re not making any judgments until we continue that process.” Treasury would undertake a broad review of currency issues using its regular procedures, Mnuchin said. The next Treasury currency report is due in April. 

The next day, Trump declared that China was the “grand champion at manipulating its currency” and declared when visiting manufacturing CEOs that action would be taken to combat China’s “$500 billion” U.S. trade deficit. Hmm...

Will Trump’s joint address to Congress clarify who is setting Trump administration China policy and/or what that will mean for Trump’s promises to bring back American manufacturing jobs? If Trump is silent on the U.S.-China investment treaty and currency, does that mean the Goldman Sachs crew already has redirected his campaign pledges for change into more-of-the-same job-killing China trade policy?  A lot of voters will be watching closely, having given Trump the chance to prove his presidency will not be business as usual.

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