Rethinking Trade - Season 1 Episode 25: Rethinking Trade in 2021: What Are We For?

With Georgia’s run-off elections shifting control of the Senate to the Democrats, the party will have a lot more room to pursue progressive reforms than in previous years. What does this mean for fixing our rotten trade rules, and what kinds of policies should we be pursuing?

In part one of this episode, we address this question by discussing the TRADE Act of 2009. Co-sponsored by 135 members of the House and developed with a coalition of labor, environmental and other civil society organizations, the TRADE Act laid out a comprehensive vision for trade policies that would promote employment and development while protecting the environment and public health. But a lot has happened since then, from the harsh lessons COVID-19 had taught us about the facilities of hyperglobalization to the growing climate crisis to Big Tech’s monopoly choke hold. So how would progressives build on the vision of a decade ago?

In part two, we look at President-Elect Biden’s commitment to impose a moratorium on new trade deals until major investments are made to protect U.S. workers, and we discuss how important it is that this period also include a process of rethinking and fixing U.S. trade policy to work for people and the planet.


Transcribed by Sally King

Ryan: Welcome back to rethinking trade where we don't just talk about trade policy, we fight change it. I'm Ryan and I'm joined once again by our in house trade expert, Lori Wallach. Lorie, it's hard to know exactly how to start this episode, given the shocking things that have happened in the last week and a half in the United States. I'm sure more is to come. One thing that's not changing, however, is the results of the Georgia election and the fight for control of the Senate, which will no doubt have an impact on the fight for good trade policies in the coming year and years. I know many of our listeners are wondering whether these results will help deliver new trade rules that work for working people and the planet. To introduce this new political moment, though, I wanted to do two things. First, I wanted to actually step backwards a bit to just over a decade ago to discuss a comprehensive trade bill that you know a lot about called the TRADE Act. And then I want to talk about the more immediate trade deal moratorium that President-elect Biden has committed to. Let's start with the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act or TRADE Act. What was this bill? Or why is it important for us to be discussing it today?
Lori: So the TRADE Act was a comprehensive vision of a different kind of trade and investment policy that would promote employment, development, accountability, promote the environment and public health. And it was developed from the bottom up from members of Congress who would oppose the old NAFTA/WTO model of trade agreements, and a vast set of citizens groups, family, farm groups and consumer groups, labor unions and environmental groups, faith groups and small business groups. And it basically came out of a process that was a year long, that was basically started with discussions, what would it be? What would we be for? What do we want? What are the outcomes we want, and then some of the trade wonky allies sat down and start writing the technical trade language that would get to those results. And then there was an iterative editing process, until ultimately, with the members of Congress and the outside groups that basically are like the core constituency of the Democratic Party, a fully articulated version of what kinds of trade agreements, how to review the old ones. And if they weren't working, fix them, and how to replace the fast track trade authority with a new process that would put an emergency brake and a steering wheel on the negotiations, to make sure that the substantive vision in the TRADE Act was going to be the outcome for agreements negotiated under this new process. And the thing that's the most amazing about this is a 60, page long, detailed bill ended up with something like 150 c0-sponsors, agreeing that this should be the new way forward on trade.

Ryan: And what is what is this bill mean, now 10 years later, do you think we need a new TRADE Act for today?

Lori: For sure, because at that point, the focus was on a lot of issues that are still around with serious problems, offshoring of jobs, race to the bottom wages, multinational companies, abusing workers and developing countries and effectively violating people's basic human and labor rights to maximize their profits. And really bad environmental practices and attacks on our best existing environmental and health and safety laws. All those issues were issues already. And those issues were dealt with in the TRADE Act. But now there's been a decade more experience of what does and doesn't work as far as the rules and trade agreements and whether they can change the behavior of these dangerous multinational corporations. But then there are a whole set of issues that weren't at the forefront when the TRADE Act was being created. Climate we knew, but we didn't know that it was the do or die crisis of our future. Or at least a lot of people didn't. Some smart people did. The whole sort of issues around the massive digital monopolies, the Amazons, the Googles, Facebook, the platforms that have both become enormous threats it to small businesses to the safety of consumers with their unsafe imported products that sneak around normal tax and other obligations small businesses have to face, but also their monopoly of information and their training and our private information as if it were commodity, those issues were really not engaged then. And those issues are now some of the outrageous tie the hands of government rules that big companies are trying to insert into trade agreements. And then finally, I think the TRADE Act, though it was way ahead of its time, also didn't fully incorporate the degree to which multinational companies would be using the so called trade agreements to dodge things like financial regulation, and anti trust breaking up monopolies broadly, not just the big tech companies, and trying to systematically undermine the space government's had domestically to ensure that the economy works for most people. So all of the outrageous problems that were surfaced with COVID of these hyper brittle globalized supply chains, where the only thought was efficiency, not web and corporate profits, not whether consumers could get goods they needed for their health and safety and to deal with emerging crises. So those are things that any new trade policy going forward is going to need to deal with up front that the TRADE Act did not.

Ryan: And I will drop a link in the description of this podcast episode where you can learn more about the TRADE Act from Public Citizen's website. Laurie, for part two of the podcast, I wanted to talk about President Elect Biden's commitment to impose a moratorium on trade deals, meaning he would not negotiate any new deals until we've, quote, made major investments here at home and our workers and our communities, equipping them to compete and win in the global economy. That includes investing in education, infrastructure and manufacturing, here at home and quote, why is it important that Biden stick to this plan, and maybe you could just tell us a little more about this plan.

Lori: It's important that Biden's stick to his promise about a moratorium on new trade agreements. And that also that that moratorium practically means that they're not going to continue with the negotiations that the Trump administration started. For free trade agreements with the United Kingdom, or with Kenya, or for new rules that big tech wants at the WTO to handcuff all of our governments from protecting our privacy and holding these monopolies accountable. All of that stuff needs to go on hiatus. And a lot of it just needs to get dumped. Because number one, a lot of the existing rules directly conflict with the goals and policies that the Biden administration itself has said it will prioritize as part of its build back better plan. So expanding by American and by America, reinvesting our tax dollars, into creating innovation and jobs, and improving our infrastructure here violates existing trade rules, giving subsidies to create the industries of the future, necessary for our resilience and ability to respond to future crises necessary to improve our economic resilience in this global economy, necessary to address economic injustice by investing in communities of color and poor parts of the country that have not had real investments for decades to create jobs, and move the economies in these regions. Those kinds of subsidies, depending on how they're done will violate WTO and NAFTA rules against subsidies or breaking up the big tech firms regulating the banks making sure we have affordable health care, depending how any of that is done, or all of the most common sense things we need to do with respect to the climate crisis with respect to energy, for instance, a bunch of those violate or conflict with the service sector, corporate guarantees and the WTO and all of our free trade agreements. And that's just serve a sampling of the problem. So to do what the bytom ministration is guaranteeing they're going to do domestically, not about trade, they need to fix the existing rules, they should not be doubling down on damnation and problems they need to fix the existing rules. And then the number two reason why this moratorium is critical is we need to get the rules, right.
So we know what didn't work. We know what the policy disasters of that have been. And we now have seen that political disasters, that these corporate rigged rules that leaves so many Americans clobbered and feeling hurt and aggrieved have caused. So we need to take the damn time to have the conversation in Congress, in the administration, with outside stakeholders in, in labor in the environmental and consumer and small business and family farm and faith communities, everyone who could be engaging needs to be engaging in sorting out what do we want trade policy to do? The new US Trade Representative nominee Catherine Thai said exactly right. trade is not an end until itself. It is a tool to use to promote our values and our goals. So as a country, we need to have a discussion about how do we make a new trade policy for the future that actually promotes not undermine undermines where we want to go with climate and saving the planet; with creating good jobs and improving people's wages, and dealing with racial and economic inequalities that have blighted our nation for decades. What are we going to do? As a nation? How do we want to go building an infrastructure that's not just safe, but creates innovation gets us ready to be part of the climate solution, not part of the disaster? All of those questions need to be thought out in the context of "Oh, that tool that's called trade, the rules we've been using make it worse, how do we actually make it better? How do we harness that tool to promote our goals, not have the old policies undermine the things we care about." And without a moratorium to basically put the steamroller in neutral and pull it off, and park it and have a thoughtful discussion. We're going to just be continuing the disaster, or a lot of us are going to be distracted from being able to put our shoulders to fighting what for what we're for. Because we'll be in these stupid backwards repeated fights to stop the bad stuff. And you know, we'll do it and you know, we can. We stop the TPP, US activist united. But what a dang waste of time as compared to having this hiatus and having time to think about how we're going to go forward together.

Ryan: And how can civil society organizations like the ones that you've mentioned, how can folks like that and grassroots activists, like many of our listeners, helped shape this process to ensure that it results in real progressive changes in our trade policies?

Lori: Well, that's the perfect question. So the first thing is, we have to make sure that the moratorium is real. And that includes those agreements, including the WTO, big tech agreements, the UK and Kenya free trade agreements, and any new investment agreements with ISDS or without are not going forward. First thing to do about that is I recommend folks call members of Congress, email text, right? They're members of Congress with a two part message. Number one, I want this moratorium on trade, and I want to be reliant needs to include all the leftover Trump agreements. And number two, right to me member of Congress, and tell me what the new trade policy is going to be after this moratorium, I want to be part of creating that I want you to be part of creating that we need to replace our old trade policy. You want to get the members of Congress thinking about it, and you want to get them engaged. So open that discussion, you don't have to have the answers. And then number two, to help you think about the answers go to our website, and rethink trade. Both of those are places where number one, you can see what was in that trade at. But number two, you can start thinking for yourself what's most important to you, in a good trade policy, what things should always be in trade agreements, obviously, they all have to have a floor of decency that companies have to meet if they want to get the benefits of the trade agreements, certain labor and wage standards, certain environmental standards, certain human rights standards, they don't pay, they don't play. And number two, there's certain things trade agreements can never have again, some of them obvious like, for instance, big new protection monopolies for Big Pharma, to jack up medicine prices, the Investor State Dispute Settlement system that has corporations empowered to attack our governments. Basically, the bottom line is all of us progressives, labor unionists, activist, environmentalist, small business people, people of faith, we banded together and we made Trump have to go renegotiate his renegotiate NAFTA. And the deal we got was not perfect. It's not what we're for. We all said it. It's just the floor from which we are going to continue the fight and build onward. So this next piece of business is to remind Congress that NAFTA ain't the fix the new NAFTA is where we start from, and to get them engaged and get your brains engaged. This is that turning around moment, an enormous amount of hard works been done till now. So now, at that point, what do we for? What do we want? We will use this moratorium after winning this moratorium to actually turn around and actually rethink trade. So we get trade policies that support the goals and values that we all support.

Ryan: Rethinking trade is produced by public citizen's global trade watch, I would encourage you to visit as well as to educate yourself and to find out how you can get involved in the work we're doing to fight for fairer and more equitable trade policies.

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Defenders of Trade Policy Status Quo Say Black and Latino Workers Not Hurt by U.S. Trade Policies, Despite Data to the Contrary

Last week, we published a report showing past U.S. trade policies have had a disproportionately negative impact on Black and Latino workers. Defenders of the trade status quo are arguing that our focus on trade-related job loss, downward pressure on wages and income inequality was off base. 

Their main substantive argument was one made for decades by defenders of the trade policy status quo: Even if some workers lost jobs, we all ended up better off because we had access to less expensive, imported stuff. 

Except, that has not been true for most of us for many years. As job offshoring moved up the wage ladder, the losses we suffer in wages now significantly outweigh the savings we get as consumers. Said who? The grandfather of modern trade economics, Nobel laureate Professor Paul Samuelson.

According to standard trade theory, while specific workers who lose their jobs due to imports may suffer, the vast majority of us gain from trade “liberalization” because we can buy cheaper imported goods.

However, as jobs have been offshored from more sectors of the economy and job offshoring has moved into higher wage jobs, this is no longer necessarily true. 

Professor Samuelson published a startling 2004 academic paper that mathematically shows how the offshoring of higher-paid jobs to countries like China and India can cause U.S. workers to lose more from reduced wages than they gain from cheaper imported goods. I recommend reading the paper, even if you skip the mathematic formulas through which he proves this point. Because this is the scholar whose groundbreaking work applying the theory of free trade to modern economic realities is the basis of the trade-liberalization-is-a-net-gain-for-all fact so widely accepted. Except, it no longer holds true, and he explains quite clearly why this is the case.

A few years before Professor Samuelson’s paper, the non-partisan Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) applied the actual trade flow, consumer price and employment and wage data to the theorem. They found that when you compared the lower prices of cheaper goods to the income lost from low-wage competition under status quo trade policies, the trade-related wage losses outweigh the gains in cheaper goods for the majority of U.S. workers. The CEPR study found that U.S. workers without college degrees (61% of the workforce) lost an amount equal to about 10% of their wages, even after accounting for the benefits of cheaper goods. That meant a net loss of more than $3,500 per year for a worker earning the then-median annual wage of $35,540.

At the time, CEPR’s findings were widely attacked. And then Professor Samuelson’s paper showed that what they found was not a fluke or some anomalous years of data, but rather the new reality.

Since then, other proponents of trade liberalization have published papers discussing permanent, significant trade-related wage losses for many – for instance David Autor and colleagues with respect to China trade. And there also is broad consensus in the economics field that the wage suppressing feature of trade liberalization is a major contributor to income inequality here. The other critiques of our report on trade-impacts on Black and Latino workers fall into the category of distracting statistical gymnastics and misdirection.

We point out that in the decades since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United States has lost millions of higher-paying manufacturing jobs. We found that Black and Latino workers were disproportionately employed in nine of the ten sectors hardest hit.

The standard counter argument that the U.S. economy created millions of jobs during the same period is irrelevant. Even if overall unemployment remained low because lower-paying service sector jobs were being created, Black and Latino workers disproportionately lost better-paying manufacturing jobs, and as a result they suffered significant wage losses. Trade policy shapes the quality or types of jobs available for people of different education levels, and thus affects wages. Other factors, such as fiscal and monetary policy, generally have a greater influence on the total number of jobs available in an economy.

Or as a National Bureau of Economic Research study puts it more formally: “Offshoring to low wage countries and imports [are] both associated with wage declines for U.S. workers. We present evidence that globalization has led to the reallocation of workers away from high wage manufacturing jobs into other sectors and other occupations, with large declines in wages among workers who switch.”

Speaking about wages, the standard counter argument critics have also raised, that average hourly wages have grown in the past two decades, is the same as saying there has been inflation. What counts is inflation-controlled real median wages – what our earnings can buy and how much the majority of us are making.

Economists now widely name “increased globalization and trade openness” as a key explanation for the unprecedented failure of wages to keep pace with productivity, as noted in Federal Reserve Bank research. Even economists who defend status-quo trade policies attribute much of the wage-productivity disconnect to a form of “labor arbitrage” that allows multinational firms to continually offshore jobs to lower-wage countries.

And finally, critics raised the most recent go-to, if false, argument about automation and technology having caused manufacturing job loss, not trade. If you want to see the data, check out this paper but here’s the gist of it:

First, investment in automation actually slowed during the post-2000 period of mass manufacturing job loss. However, during that period, the U.S. trade deficit exploded. Researchers have found that job displacement from technology is at its lowest level in decades now, even as the automation-not-trade argument has become increasingly popular among defenders of the trade status quo.

Second, data often used to show that automation-caused manufacturing job loss are premised on a basic misinterpretation. The popular view is that, because the value of what is being produced in the U.S. manufacturing sector has grown even as millions of manufacturing jobs were lost, each manufacturing worker is producing more because factories were automated.

Labor economist Susan Houseman at the Upjohn Institute showed that this story is based on the mistaken assumption that productivity growth reflects the rise of automation. In fact, the growth in U.S. manufacturing output comes mainly from just one sector: computers and electronics and has to do with how new iterations of machinery are valued. Overall manufacturing output today is only 8% higher than in the 1990s and remains lower than before the Great Recession.

Bottom line: Even accounting for Americans’ access to cheaper imported goods, the current trade model’s downward pressure on wages outweighs those gains, making most Americans net losers. And sadly, given our nation’s history of structural racism that has permeated the workplace, education, housing and more, our report’s findings may have been foreseeable: While working-class Americans of all races and ethnicities lost from the trade policies enacted by the United States over the past several decades, Black and Latino workers were overrepresented relative to their share of the workforce in industries that were hardest hit, and they lived in parts of the country that were slammed.

Add to that all of the non-trade corporate protectionism that lards up our “trade” agreements and no doubt we need to rethink our trade policies. At issue is what rules of the global economy can deliver for the most people and remedy past wrongs – not whether we should trade or not.

It is important to differentiate between free trade and our current “trade” agreements. Because one of the critiques to our study, by the conservative group National Taxpayers Union, focused on tariff cuts, it’s worth noting that today’s trade pacts are not mainly about cutting tariffs to expand trade. 

For instance, most of the chapters of the NAFTA, USMCA or WTO – as well as the now thankfully-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – actually have nothing to do with traditional trade matters like cutting tariffs, opening quotas, standardizing customs procedures and the like. Instead, these pacts set binding rules to which every signatory country must conform their medicine patents and pricing, financial regulatory, food safety, government procurement and other policies. 

Consider the raw protectionism for pharmaceutical companies in these pacts that help pharmaceutical firms avoid generic competition for longer and keep prices high. As we envision the philosophers of free trade - Adam Smith and David Ricardo - rolling in their graves at a high velocity at the prospect of  “free trade” agreements mandating that governments provide new rent-seeking opportunities for protected industries, let us contemplate how we got into this mess. 

With 500 official U.S. trade advisors representing corporate interests historically given special access to the policy process, while the public, press and largely Congress have been shut out, it should not be surprising that corporate interests thoroughly captured the U.S. trade policy process. 

By hijacking the good name of “free trade” and taking advantage of a uniquely non-transparent policymaking process, they transformed trade agreements into delivery mechanisms for an array of retrograde policies – many of which failed when pursued in Congress and state legislatures. 

Instead of fighting about whether there was damage, given the data and people’s lived experience verify it, hopefully we can focus forward together on what new approach could deliver for more people in this country and around the world. 

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Rethinking Trade - Season 1 Episode 24: How US Trade Policies Disproportionately Impact Black and Latino Workers

In this episode, Lori is joined by Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chaves of the United farm Workers and renowned civil rights activist, to discuss our Trade Discrimination report. This new research reveals how decades of corporate-rigged trade policies have disproportionately impacted Black and Latino workers.

In her decades of labor and civil rights activism, Huerta has witnessed how corporate-rigged globalization has gutted Latino and Black livelihoods and communities nationwide.

Trade Discrimination: The Disproportionate, Underreported Damage to U.S. Black and Latino Workers From U.S. Trade Policies, published this week at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, details how U.S. structural, race-based social and economic inequities that undermine the economic and social welfare of people of color have been further exacerbated by U.S. trade policies. You can find the report here.

Transcribed by Sally King

Ryan: Hey, everybody, and welcome back to rethinking trade. We have a special episode this week because Global Trade Watch has just released a report called Trade Discrimination the Disproportionate Underreported Damage to U.S. Black and Latino Workers from U.S. Trade Policies. You can find the report linked in the description of this episode or at joining Lori and I to discuss the very real stories behind all the data in the report is legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta. Dolores co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. And she's been a tireless voice for social and economic justice for half a century. Dolores, thank you so much for being here.

Dolores: Well, thank you very much for having me.

Ryan: Lori, why don't you get us started by telling us a little bit about this report. What does the report cover? And what are some of the big takeaways in it?

Lori: Well, the best part of this podcast is Dolores. So let me quickly lay out what the report is about. So a lot of people generally know about the damage that's been caused by corporate-led hyperglobalisation the kind of model that's been implemented over the last several decades by so-called trade agreements like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the World Trade Organization. But that mass outsourcing. And now as we learn with the COVID-19 crisis, the unreliable supply chains. That damage really has been mischaracterized as something that particularly impacted white working-class Americans. And in fact, in his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump, basically, you know, hasted progressive critique of corporate globalization and job outsourcing and bad trade agreements. But he reframed it into a narrative of resentment with racialized appeals to target white working-class voters as the victims.

 And the reality is this new report called Trade Discrimination finds in looking at the government data on impacts of these trade agreements is that the trade-related decline of us manufacturing and the outsourcing of union call center jobs has had a dire impact on racial minorities. And in fact, in many ways, the damage has fallen disproportionately on people of color in the United States, from these race to the bottom trade agreements. And to some degree, we saw at the 2020 election, working-class voters, namely people who make $50,000 or less coming back to the Democrats in a big swing. That was that and union voters are two of the big reasons why Biden beat Trump. And so now it's kind of on the Democrats to prove to those working-class voters who are giving the democrats another chance that they got it, that the damage is real, and that the Democrats are going to do a new trade policy that actually delivers for working-class people. But part of the deal is the Democrats have to understand who the damaged parties are, and that they have a working-class problem, not just a white working-class problem. So here are the highlights of what our report of both surveying the other studies that have been done, but we did a lot of original data crunching shows with respect to how and why Black and Latino workers have suffered disproportionate injury. First of all, Black and Latino workers were disproportionately employed in the manufacturing industries that were the hardest hit by offshoring and import competition. So for instance, Black workers are about 10 and a half percent of the entire labor force when NAFTA starts, but they represented 14%, paper manufacturing 12% and chemicals 12% in transportation equipment, the auto sector trucks. So those are sectors that got flattened by NAFTA and China entering the WTO. Latinos were just under 9% of the labor force, but they were 12 and a half percent of the workers in manufactured fabricated metals, they were 12% of furniture 10 and a half percent of plastics and rubber. And the beverages industry are lots of imports are not coming from Mexico, had both over-represented African American Latino workers. Now, if you look at the sectors that got hit, and the sectors we have the biggest new trade deficits, you have just massive job losses, where the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, shows that black workers have lost nearly a half a million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA and the WTO. And so it was in part because the workers were in the sectors that there were explosions of deficits in manufacturing industries are offshoring. But that also then caused a huge stagnation in wages, because wages were basically flat in those industries, as there were lots of workers who no longer have those jobs now fighting for the same jobs, fewer numbers of them, compared to, you know, hospitality, and leisure, which pays a lot less to start with, didn't have great growth in wages, but they grew.

So as those jobs were disappearing, the other thing that really clobbered Black and Latino workers were where the jobs were leaving from. So the 20 US states that are the least racially diverse, had only 20% of all government certified trade job losses during NAFTA and WTO. But, for instance, the 15 states that are home to 85% of the total Latino population in the US represent over half of the certified trade job losses. The 15 states that are home to 85% of the Black population accounted for basically 3 million of the 4 million total manufacturing job losses. So not only was it that African Americans and Latinos were in the sectors of the economy clobbered, but they were in the parts of the country that got clobbered. And so cities like Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Cleveland, that were incredibly hard to hit. We're also locations where Latinos had come particularly from Mexico several decades ago, more recently from Central America, to seek better lives in the manufacturing sector. 6 million black workers fleeing from racial terror and poverty in the Jim Crow South had fled to the manufacturing sector in the north and create vibrant communities in the first half of the 1900s. So this devastation in the sectors and in the parts of the country in the numbers of jobs also resulted in basically reinforcing existing structural racism because black and Latino workers who lost their jobs ended up having a much harder time than their white counterparts finding a replacement job According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Certainly part of that is just racial discrimination, hiring, and promotion, etc. But then, the phenomenon basically of increased competition for a reduced number of well-paying jobs available to people without college degrees, then exacerbates these underlying racial discriminatory practices. So basically, after 25 years of NAFTA and WTO, the racial gaps in wage levels are in some areas wider have basically not closed with, for instance, black men earning 75 cents and Latino men earning 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, black women earning 88 cents and Latinas 78 cents for every dollar earned by a white woman. And instead of getting better, those gaps have either stayed or gotten worse, which, you know, partially is our structural racism, but a big piece of it is the disappearance of the good union, middle-class jobs, that the trade agreements basically incentivize to be offshored and fostered a huge wave of job-killing imports. So that is the sum of this study, it challenges the conventional wisdom. And then the real question is what happened on the ground, and Dolores has been traveling around the country speaking in communities for decades. And so it's our honor to have her here to basically describe some of what this is actually meant practically that's the data, but what it meant to people. And you were one of the people who predicted this in the early 1990s. So, Dolores, I wanted you to tell a little bit of the stories that you were telling me back then, of what you thought was going to happen both to the apparel workers Latinas, in LA, two people working in making blue jeans on the border to people in the Central Valley, in the various Green Giant and other plants. And then what also happened to people in Mexico under this corporate trade regime?

Dolores: Well, we saw, what happened is that workers were devastated that the loss of workers is terrible. And we're talking about thousands and thousands of workers that have been left without jobs throughout the United States. And not only in Los Angeles, with places like Texas, places in the south, places in New York, the whole garment industry with his were totally destroyed. And every time that they talk about the trade wars, the one thing they forget to mention is that the corporations are really behind all of this, you know, like you have a right now in the United States, we have all of these 99 cent stores and dollar stores or whatever, that, you know, sell the cheap goods that come from China and other places. But none of the manufacturing has been done in the United States by us workers.

And it's had a devastating effect on our economy and on the workforce, but also on the political scene. So when you have so many people that are clamoring for jobs in the United States, and when you go to some of these cities in the Midwest, particularly where you had all of these factories, and you see these abandoned buildings, and then, of course, it's affected the tax base, because you don't have money coming into these cities, for schools, for libraries for job training programs, for infrastructure. So the economic impact of all of this has been, it just affected the United States terribly. And we see it played out when you have all of these people that put us in this last election, that vote for Donald Trump because people are angry because they don't have jobs. And then we see all of the homeless people on our streets. And, again, you think, "How can this happen?' When we are the richest country in the world, in the United States of America, and we have so many people in poverty, so many people that are homeless, people that have to work two jobs just to be able to pay the rent and pay food. And of course, now with a pandemic, that has also affected us workers. I mean, the devastation continues. And this in this whole notion that somehow people have to work for free, that workers shouldn't be given a living wage, they shouldn't be given a pension plan, they shouldn't be given a medical plan. And, and we don't have, it's the working people that really hold up a society, not only by creating the economic base in the income base, the revenue base of our society. So when you have the basis of your society, that is deteriorated to such a point, that it affects everything. And so, and I think it's also a moral ground when you think about it, that workers should be expected to work for minimum or less than minimum wages, literally for free, when even when they work, they cannot earn enough money, to be able to afford a home or to have a living wage. And so it's almost like making slavery, normal and legal.

Lori: And that is a phenomenon that you've just beautifully described that under the government data explaining what happened after NAFTA in WTO, has hit African American and Latino workers, disproportionately hard. So that 20 US states that are the least racially diverse, had only one-fifth of the government certified trade-related job loss, but the 15 states that are 85% of the total Latino population, they account for over half of the trade job loss of 1.6 million jobs. So I'm thinking about some of the places where Latino workers had built vibrant, middle-class communities, like the industrial workers in Chicago, like many people whose families had migrated to these factory union jobs to create a wonderful middle-class existence in the industrial sector. And I know you travel all over the country, what what are what's happening in those in those communities, Milwaukee has a very strong Latino community relating to the auto sector. And as well, obviously, the textile and apparel sectors all across the country, what's happened with these communities? Where El Paso where lembu hair obrera has organized valiantly, but they still lost 25,000 sewing jobs. What is your experience of what's going on in these communities now?

Dolores: Well, people live in poverty, they live in extreme poverty. And a lot of people they have to go to the service jobs, which of course, don't pay very well. And so again, it just means an increase in poverty, but it only affects people in terms of their income levels, but their educational levels so that people can't afford to go to college, that people can afford to have businesses. And then of course, it also displays itself in terms of delinquency, the maybe addiction to us in substance abuse, and of course, the it affects the health. And we've seen the pandemic, how the over the COVID-19 has affected Hispanics, and people are getting infected at a higher rate, people are dying at a higher rate. So it has all of these manifestations that come with poverty. And so it is, you might it reaches deep into the community. And it affects all of the social strata, the educational policies that I just mentioned. And it puts people at risk, basically, for everything that possibly could happen to people that are in poverty is happening to them. And then of course, and I do believe that part of the mass incarceration policies also have to do with the lack of job opportunities, because we have seen the mass incarceration that kind of came at the same time, as you have mentioned before, in your reports, that the mass incarceration systems coincide with these global trade policies and the export of jobs to other countries here in the United States. I think whoever does these social designs, I don't know whether they plan it this way, or it just happens that way. But it seems like they do coincide so that people's lives are not only do they have to live in poverty, but their whole careers and features are taken from them when they are when they are jailed. And you have these harsh criminal sentences that keep people in prison for years and years and years.

Lori: I'm wondering, as you've traveled around the country, and you are a heroine in so many Latino communities where you're celebrating you speak across the country, what you actually observed in Latino communities. And how have they been how what is your experience of how they've been directly impacted by the job loss from NAFTA from China trade? Do you have some memories personally, because you've been traveling the country for so many years that you actually have lived the timeline, from the highest rate of unionization and the strongest manufacturing base? You've lived through the whole period of deindustrialization. And what are your personal memories of some of these communities and what you've seen this shift do?

Dolores: Well, I think one of the hardest areas that have been hit I mentioned before, was the on the educational level. And even here in California, for instance, or we are like the fifth largest economy in the world, and that we could actually be a country and, again, have one of the richest states that we have in the United States of America. And yet we have such high poverty rates. For instance, in terms of the amount of money that is going to for education for our children in California, where California where that was going to school many decades ago, we were number one in the country, in terms of the amount of money that we gave per student, per education. Now we are number 39 in the country. And this is ability adversely affected people, young people of color. And, and it's not just in California, it's the same thing that happens when you go to Arizona, when you go to Texas, when you go to the Midwest, in Chicago, when you go to New York State, you have the same thing that is happening now that our children of color, are not getting an equitable education. And, and so this is true all over the United States of America. And it seems that somehow, is our black and brown communities expand and we know that they are growing in the United States of America get the amount of money that is there for education is shrunk. And it is shrunken in such a major way that all of these young people of color are not getting an equitable education. And this is, of course, going to have a lot of impacts in terms of the future of our country. When all of these young people, I mean, you know, hundreds of thousands every other graduate from high school. And of course, you have the ones that don't even finish high school, that this is going to have a big effect on our economy in the future.

Lori: Certainly the deindustrialization. But also now increasingly, the offshoring of union call centers, the offshoring of information technology, jobs, and medical transcription, jobs, and engineering jobs, this race to the bottom has gutted the tax bases of cities, and small towns across the country. And so that the students who are relying on the public schools, versus who have a way to buy their way into a private school to get a good education, what you're saying is, those are the students that are being the most impacted, which then just continues a trend of poverty.

Dolores: Yeah, and at the same time, these are the populations that are growing the fastest.

Lori: So for the future of our country, the rising majority, under this paradigm of race to the bottom, globalization, which has stolen so many good jobs and gutted the tax base, is basically creating a majority population that has not will have neither the quality education of previous generations. And that will not find the jobs that pay well, for people who don't have higher education, it's a real catch-22 is you said, it's like some kind of social design.

Dolores: And when you think about the only way that poor people can survive, again, I mentioned a little while ago, where you have all of these outlets that sell goods that come from China. And when we think about, you know, this is the only way that poor people can survive, is to, they're the ones that actually go to those stores for the things that they need. And so the system and perpetuates itself, it doesn't really give any remedies that just say people sustain themselves by going to the dollar store, even for groceries, you know, because they sell groceries now. And this is the only way that they can possibly survive is by being the consumers and sustainers of this poverty system.

Lori: So that is a downward spiral for sure. And when Joe Biden was running for president, he talked a lot about his build back better plan. And one of the things that's a big priority, and that plan is creating more manufacturing capacity, doing more investment in domestic jobs and education. And he has basically tried to think about how not only can we get out of the COVID economic crunch, but that when we come on the other side of it, we've actually invested to be in a better place than before the COVID-19 crisis happened. Do you have a sense that Joe Biden understands these very real dynamics that you're describing? And that he can we'll do something about it?

Dolores: I don't know. I think that's the question. The big question is, how do you get these corporations to cooperate? Because they don't really, I don't think they care. As long as prophets have their motive, and they want to make as much money as possible. I think they're going to continue to the system that gives them the greatest wealth. And I don't know that Joe Biden can rein them in, or what he can do to save them, you got to come back to the US, and you've got to pay taxes in the United States of America. You know, we recently lost proposition 13 here in California that we were all working on, that proposition would have been in $12 billion, 60% of it would have gone to our local communities, which are hurting because of COVID-19. And the other 40% would have gone to our school systems. But the corporations that they, you know, they got together and they spent all this money that they could, and ended the tax of this money that would have come in for this $12 billion would have come in from the wealthy corporations like Amazon, Disney, Chevron, only 10% of the wealthy corporations that work in California would have valued 2% of the money would have come from those very mega-corporations, but they did everything that they could to defeat it. So I think that is like a mirror that really shows that these wealthy corporations don't give a damn if our kids get an education or not. They don't really care if people live in poverty. And so the big question is, how was the president-elect, Biden going to rein these corporations and even when you're talking about, about, you know, Medicare for all, they will not stand up to the big pharmaceuticals and, and these big insurance companies, which is, the only way that we can get Medicare for All is by taking these, these people are out of the health business and, you know, giving the money to doctors and hospitals and nurses and the people that do tend to the, to the people that are sick, and not to these middle managers. And I don't know Joe Biden's going to be able to do that. He back down on Medicare already, because they just have such a powerful lobby, powerful communication systems. And the general public has no clue about what it what that even means, you know, they call it, quote-and-quote, socialism, and something that you have to be afraid of?

 Lori: Well, one thing you told me back during NAFTA, when we were moping, and in, in a very blue mood about how we would get some of the California Democratic members of Congress to vote against NAFTA. And, you know, I remember saying, boy, they're really convinced they don't want to vote against NAFTA, all these corporations are telling them, they have to vote for NAFTA. And I remember you saying something, like, we're just gonna have to make them do it, we're gonna have to organize. And that's been your whole life. That's something you've taught me, you've taught generations of people, that the companies don't want to do the thing that's good for the people, you have to make them do it. And so it strikes me that in a weird way, the COVID-19 crisis provided a lesson for a lot of people who aren't the working people who already knew that this system was rigged against them. All those people who you know, don't work in a factory, don't do a service job that isn't a doctor or a lawyer suddenly have this experience of somehow in the richest country in the world, they couldn't get the things they need it because we don't make it anymore. And it was suddenly a wake-up call that here we are, and they couldn't get masks, and no one could make masks and someone could die because they couldn't have a ventilator. And we couldn't make ventilators. And it just makes me wonder as you know, your that you are the Empress of organizing, what your view is about how we can leverage this unifying experience of how screwed we are in a country that can't make things anymore, to try and get some of the people who haven't really cared about what happens to the people who make things. But because they're the people who buy things, they're now also the people who are on the losing end of this version of trade and globalization. What is your view of how we can basically organize the people who make the stuff we're used to the people who bought the stuffing cans to make Joe Biden do the right thing?

Dolores: Well, I think it will continue the organizing, and I have a lot of hope. I mean, we have seen all the young people that are marching out there and on the issues of racial justice. And somehow I have said this before, but I know back in the 60s and the 70s, we had a cultural revolution in the United States of America. But you know, that's when the LGBTQ movement got, really, you might say, it grew so much, and the environmental justice movement was just starting. The woman's movement was like, in its second or third phase. The Civil Rights Movement made a lot of changes. And but I think this next revolution and ethics got it, the young people that wasn't gonna have to lead it. And it's got to be an economic revolution. I think before it might have been iffy because people didn't really feel the pain that much. But now I think people are not only feeling the pain but seeing the pain because you can't walk down a single street without or any city in America without seeing homeless people on the street. It's so it's all very, very visible now, and maybe doubted that we were going to this pandemic, this might be a good time to really start uplifting those messages and explaining to people like you do with your great work that you're doing on the research so that you can actually show people the data, as you're doing and say, "Look, this is what it looks like this is what's happening." And so, especially younger people that may have said, Well, I don't know how this all happened, I was just, you know, born into this, this system and this situation. And you can say, "No, this is how it happened. And these are the people that are making it happen. Okay, so now it's time for us to address this, and do it in a mass way," the way that people are now organizing around racial justice. And I think we saw one little piece of this when the republicans were trying to get rid of Obamacare. And so you had people demonstrating at the opposite of all of these senators, and Congress people that were involved in trying to get rid of Obamacare, and they back down. So it's got to be that same type of organizing. And I know it's a little bit more difficult with the virtual organizing. But I think the main thing is that we have to get people to understand and to see this, to see what's happened, because people really can't take action until they understand. And once they understand, then we can go for the solutions, and then put the pressure on the big corporations.

Lori: Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here. First, Dolores Huerta, one of the deans of political organizing strategy and progress in the United States of America has given us our marching orders. And that is Dolores. That is spot on. And we can't tell you how much we appreciate the honor, you've honored us by coming to be on this podcast and sharing your wisdom. And so we will see you at the barricades as we fight for a trade system that is just for working people. And that puts the corporations on the receiving end of the limitations, not the environment, not the workers, not our health. Thank you so much.

 Dolores: Now, thank you for inviting me, and thank you for sharing your wisdom and your research and all of your great energy. Thank you very much, Lori. I feel honored.

Ryan: Rethinking trade is produced by Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, I would encourage you to visit rethink trade org as well as to educate yourself and to find out how you can get involved in the work we're doing to fight for fairer and more equitable trade policies.

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Must-Read Piece on the WTO

By Lori Wallach

Farah Stockman has done a great service in writing about the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Thursday’s New York Times in a way that is compelling and accessible. The siloed, practically religiously devoted defenders of the WTO (the Knights Templar WTO) are in a tizzy that the secrets of the palace are being revealed, but the comments section on the New York Times website shows how eager most people are to understand how this organization has failed them and what would do better.

The op-ed merits a read and share to get as many eyes on it as possible, and the comments are some of the most informative and interesting of any piece I’ve seen.

Read The W.T.O. Is Having a Midlife Crisis!

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Season 1 Episode 23: U.S. Officials Are Blocking Global COVID-19 Vaccine Access at the WTO

World Trade Organization (WTO) rules undermine access to COVID-19 vaccines and medicines. That’s why scores of countries are demanding that the WTO’s monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations be temporarily waived so COVID-19 vaccines and treatments can be produced worldwide. This is essential to ensure enough affordable doses to end the pandemic and save lives.

But U.S. trade officials are blocking the waiver, insisting that even during this deadly global pandemic, Big Pharma profits should come first. The question is: Will this position change under a Biden administration?

Click here to take action.

Click here to learn more.

Transcribed by Sally King

Ryan: Welcome back to rethinking trade, where we don't just talk about trade policy, we like to change it, and Ryan and I'm joined once again by our new house trade expert, Lori Wallach, the World Trade Organization is meeting, as we record this podcast, and one of the items on their agenda, it's going to have a huge impact on the world's access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. That's because the WTO intellectual property rules were designed to protect the Big Pharma giants, not the people who need medicines to survive. Lori, could you tell us what is happening right now at the WTO? What trade related intellectual property rights are. And what they have to do with the covid 19 pandemic?

Lori: So let's take one step back, the World Trade Organization enforces a dozen plus agreements, including the old trade rules which are called GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, that's the part that really is about trade. One of those other agreements is the thing you just mentioned Trade Related Intellectual Property rights which is often called TRIPS. That is basically the antithesis of free trade, that is a set of monopoly protections. Every WTO signatory country is obliged to guarantee to big pharmaceutical corporations, and that includes a guarantee of a 20 year monopoly for any medicine, it creates periods of exclusivity over the data used to prove a drug is safe so that the generic manufacturers sometimes have to wait even longer. All of those kind of rules of course are really the opposite of what you think of for free trade, right? Competition. Those are rules designed to block competition to give monopoly powers to pharmaceutical firms they can charge any damn price they want for medicines. So in the face of having that imposed on 160 countries worldwide. Were all the least developed countries are required to have these very stringent monopoly protections for big pharmaceutical firms, a set of countries like South Africa and India came in with a proposal now supported by dozens of countries, and that was to waive those pharmaceutical company monopoly rights for temporarily anything during the COVID crisis that is necessary for the production of treatments of vaccines and the technologies around the production so the actual medicines and also the know how to produce them. And it's really obvious why to do this. We need to get billions of doses of vaccines, hundreds of millions of doses of treatments, and the only way the whole world is going to get better is if the whole world is better. It's an epidemic. So it's actually in the interest of people all around the world to get enough of the vaccine made so that there's no one who can't get it, and quickly. But right now the way that WTO rules are set up, if a country, for instance, simply copied the vaccine, or insisted that the company provide the know how for how to copy the vaccine that it would be in violation of these WTO rules, and a country's imperative to save lives with subject country to indefinite trade sanctions. So a developing country would have huge penalties billions of dollars put against its actual exports needed to keep this country going because they put people's lives first. And what would that process actually look like if a country was held in violation?

Lori: Well let's just be super concrete, because Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened during the peak of the AIDS epidemic when hundreds of 1000s people were dying antiretroviral treatments were available, but they were so prohibitively expensive that throughout the developing world in Brazil and South Africa. People are dying needlessly for whom, if generic versions of these medicines could have been produced their lives would have been the life of a person in the US or Europe with AIDS, which is basically the antiretrovirals would make it a treatable pill perennial but treatable disease. Instead of having a chronic treated disease, people all over the global south are dying and countries started to want to make their own medicines and some developing countries have the capacity. India can do it. Argentina can do it. South Africa. Brazil. And the United States, on behalf of its big pharmaceutical companies, basically threatened to go to the WTO and attack those specific countries for violating these trade agreement pharma monopoly rules, instead of basically helping those countries try and save the lives of their people who had HIV or AIDS. And that case ended up blowing up because that was, for folks who remember, when Al Gore was running for president, people from amped up or falling around busting into his event screaming, “Greed kills.” That was a WTO trips case. That was the get them to back down the Clinton Administration on these attacks using WTO against HIV AIDS medicines. So what happens with the sanctions is practical. One of these WTO tribunals decides that some countries, health law is a violation of the WTO rules. And then the country is told you have 90 days to get rid of that regime for making medicine available that pharmaceutical generic company. And if you don't, then we're going to impose penalties on all of your exports what that means practically is for instance, every good that a developing country would export will be hit with a huge tariff on the way into other countries. So that basically it's like a strangle. It's basically we're going to choke you to death if you don't change and we're going to do that by cutting off your exports.

Ryan: I know there's an effort underway right now to pressure the US and other countries to support this waiver at the WTO and prioritize responding to the pandemic over protecting Big Pharma intellectual property rights. But ultimately, who has the power to change the US position here, and also what are the prospects of this position changing under the incoming Biden administration?

Lori: Ryan, that is exactly the question to ask. So, who has the power to change this? This is a position that's taken in the executive branch, it doesn't require Congress to pass anything, whomever is the President and the President's top trade official the US Trade Representative decides the positions the United States would take at the World Trade Organization, the United States sits in a council it's called the general council, with the other countries who are signatories to the WTO the general council takes positions. If the United States, which under the Trump administration has joined Europe and a handful of other countries who are the homes of the big pharmaceutical corporations to block this proposal if the US changes sides, something the bind administration could do without Congress again and then what it would look like is instructions go from the White House to the US representatives of the WTO in Geneva, and they go to that meeting which the next one right now the meeting, we're going to say the wrong thing. The US is going to say the wrong thing. So when it needs to get in January, that General Counsel the US can go in and say we now join those countries that want to temporarily waive the WTO special monopoly protections for Big Pharma. It's a temporary waiver until the epidemic crisis is over, it only applies to those medicines and technologies, with respect to vaccines and treatments for this crisis, but we join putting public health first, that's all it would take. And who can make that happen? Well, that's us. So we all need to be taking action to contact our members of the House, or members of the Senate. And frankly, as soon as Joe Biden is sworn in the White House which will be taking, of course, the usual hotline emails and letters. And the reason to get Congress engaged is this is not a one off. So these WTO rules in this particular waiver is extremely urgent. It's literally going to make the difference between life and death of people the world in relation to the COVID-19 epidemic. But this is a fight that we started with the NAFTA renegotiation. When we got the most extreme Big Pharma giveaways that Trump added to the old NAFTA making it worse; we got that out. But we need, as the United States of America, to have a new position, about these kinds of farmer protections in trade agreements, they don't belong there at all. It's not just that the WTO rules should be waived but rather we negotiate these terms. So we're putting people's health. First, yes we want to reward innovation. So when a company comes up with a great invention there are ways to reward that but the amount of time. And what's the balances between people getting access to medicine, and the gluttonous profits that these big pharma companies make is a real problem, because this is something where on the first day, the Biden administration can show. They're going a different way on trade, you're going to put people over profits to kind of put health over Big Pharma. And this is one of those things they can do on their own, if we all join in and push them to do it.

Ryan: And if you go to you can scroll to the bottom to the take action section and you can send a letter from there to your representative and senators. and on the eyes on trade blog, which I'll link in the bio of this episode, you can read more about the WTO TRIPS issue. Rethinking Trade is produced by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. I would encourage you to visit as well as to educate yourself and to find out how to fight for fair or equitable trade policies.

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Rethinking Trade - Season 1 Episode 22: Biden Administration Part 1

President-elect Biden’s appointment of the next top U.S. trade official has taken on enormous political and symbolic value. In just a few weeks, the White House is going to look a lot different – but what about U.S. trade policy? On this episode, we examine whether the new president’s political commitment to fixing some of the worst aspects of the old corporate-rigged trade agenda will become reality, or if the office of the U.S. Trade Representative will function as a gateway for big corporations to write the rules.


Transcribed by Garrett O’Brien

Ryan: You're listening to rethinking trade with Lori Wallach. Welcome back to Rethinking Trade everyone and welcome to the last full month of the Trump administration. In just a few weeks, the White House is going to look a lot different as will the world of trade policy. So today, we're going to focus on a few things related to the new administration, from the people being tapped to lead it to some of the policy elephants looming in the room. Lori, let's talk first about the Biden administration as it currently stands. As far as the future of trade policy, what positions matter the most? And what are you seeing in terms of personnel choices so far?


Lori: Well, what candidate Biden said was three things. First, he basically announced a moratorium on new trade agreements, which he just reiterated this week. He said that until there were major investments in US production, in healthcare, in training, there would not be any new trade agreements. And that's right, because there needs to be a new US trade agreement bottle that builds off the new floor that the revised NAFTA set. He has said that he wants to greatly expand Buy American procurement, domestic preferences, and how the US government spends its money, which is the right thing to do. And to do that he also as a candidate said that he would fix the trade agreement rules that currently forbid this and make Buy American really mean “Buy American plus 60 other countries” who get waivers to Buy American and our tax dollars get offshored. So that's something we're going to need to watch carefully both that they don't do new trade agreements, and that they fix the Buy American rules in the old trade agreements. And then the third thing he said he wanted to do is a variety of priorities relating to revitalizing the US economy, investments in infrastructure, health care for more affordable for more people, more affordable medicines, and a bunch of those things as well, his priority climate initiatives, run into some of the bad old corporate rigged rules of our trade agreements. So some of that stuff is going to have to get fixed. So with all of that is what they've said, then it's who is going to do what, and the most single important job and the appointment that matters the most in the short term is the US Trade Representative that is a cabinet level appointment, and is an independent agency, and it's the lead trade policy setter for any administration. And so far, they haven't announced someone, there are some good candidates in the mix, everyone seems to think, who would be able to put forward a pro-people pro-planet agenda, but there are also some worrisome characters, and who gets that nod is going to be very symbolic, because it's going to represent either a political commitment to fixing the old corporate rigged trade agenda, or if the wrong persons in that position, it's going to be signal that it's going to be a war. And there are huge policy and political implications for that, not the least of which is hard to imagine: a president who is a democrat who's not prioritizing trade wants to get into a family feud with congressional Democrats, unions, and other base groups, and have a lot of them fighting with the administration against the administration about either a bad USTR choice or bad trade policies versus fighting side by side to try and promote the administration's non-trade agenda. There are some other appointments that have already happened that are important. One of those is Treasury. So Janet Yellen is the number one, she is a little bit too much the standard view of economists typically on trade, not sort of focusing on all the non trade rules that undermine things ostensibly she would before. The deputy, the top deputy, is a guy who was in the Obama administration. His name is Wally Adeyemo, and he is a guy who Senator Elizabeth Warren has been praising, but my past dealings with him had him as a pretty strong advocate for the Trans Pacific Partnership. And having negotiated on behalf of Treasury, where he was Deputy Chief of Staff during the previous administration, during the Obama administration, the very weak provisions in the TPP that didn't do anything to discipline currency cheating. On the other hand, he was also the guy who put his foot down and demanded that there was a limit on financial data transfers, so that Treasury could stay on top of fishy business if there was another financial crisis. So I would say the biggest thing to watch is if any of the really bad guys end up at USTR and probably number one in that list is a guy who'd love that job, who there have been a few news stories about maybe being thought about for the job. You knock me over with a feather if this comes true, but Rahm Emanuel, corporate hack extraordinaire, man who sat on tapes of criminal behavior of police in a police-related shooting in Chicago for a year, a man who I suspect if he got named to even dog catcher if there was such a title for the administration would probably cause street protests in Chicago, among other places. But Rahm Emanuel aspires to a new job in this administration, and, h having been effectively persona non grata in Chicago, so I guess he's looking to move east again. And there are a lot of people considered persona non grata for this administration, but his name has been associated with the USTR gig, and that would be catastrophic.


Ryan: You already answered my next question, actually, when you were talking about Biden's Buy America plans. So let's just jump on to the sort of final question. This is sort of part two of the podcast, I suppose. When you were talking about Wally Adeyemo you mentioned the Trans Pacific Partnership. And we didn't want to have to talk about this, but because it's been in the news, we have to, and that is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or the RCEP a lot of news outlets have been talking about the RCEP as sort of China's Trans Pacific Partnership, and they've been using that framing to suggest that Biden should try to rejoin the TPP. Or at least you know, the question is being asked, but this is not an accurate depiction of the RCEP. So my question for you, maybe you can tell me in the listeners, what is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership? How does it differ from the TPP? And why is this framing of it so problematic?


Lori: Well, I'll start with the last part, which is the same people who are trying to push us into the terrible corporate-rigged, job killing, big tech helping, medicine price increasing, environment destroying, climate disaster fueling TPP are just recycling their same old efforts. But their hope is somehow the Biden administration will not have learned the political lesson of how the Obama administration pushing TPP right through the presidential election helped make Donald Trump president, but also that most of what's in the TPP directly contradicts what Biden has said is his priority domestic agenda. So what they're basically, what the usual suspects, which are, you know, the usual corporate hacks and the lobbyists and the front groups that, you know, claim to be think tanks, who are cycling this stuff up and there are lots of op eds, lots of “Oh, no, we're left behind.” They're arguing their newest slice of this is to talk about this Asian agreement. So here's the backstory. At the time that the TPP was started, some countries in a grouping called ASEAN, which is basically the Southeast Asian countries, it's anchored with Malaysia and Indonesia and Vietnam and the Philippines and Thailand, they decided that they would, because they weren't invited to TPP, they would have a negotiation that involved they're having a free trade agreement with Japan, with Korea, and with China, who are the big countries in the region. And then they invited New Zealand and Australia as well. So there is some overlap between TPP countries and RCEP countries. But way back when the idea was these are going to be what they called two different kind of mega regionals. But it was never China's agreement. It was the ASEAN countries agreement, so it was never going to be something exactly like the TPP because the ASEAN countries in the TPP were the ones who were saying, “hey, let's not go so deep on all this non trade stuff.” So the RCEP was under negotiation even longer than the TPP. The RCEP was under negotiation for almost 12 years. And ultimately what happened last month, is they decided that they either could have a deal like the TPP that was dead on arrival and no country would or most countries wouldn't implement. Or they could basically roll it way back. So the final deal looks nothing like a TPP or even what they had in mind with the RCEP when they started. It's a lot more like a brand, a label, than a trade agreement. So to put this in perspective, unlike the TPP this agreement doesn't get rid of all tariffs. It largely doesn't even cover agriculture at all — the most contentious area where tariffs were zeroed out and TPP. It does not have Investor State Dispute Settlement, ISDS, which was the heart of the TPP. It does not have intellectual property rules, Big Pharma patent goodies and the copyright rules not in there. It has the most modest service sector rules not forcing countries to privatize and liberalize service sector. It does not have digital trade rules to lock big tech privileges in place and limit governments from regulating. Its main thing is it has common, what are called Rules of Origin, which simply has to do with what kind of product has what kind of test to see if it meets the terms of agreement is it the last step of processing has to be in one of the countries in the group? Or is it does a certain value has to be X percent of the value comes from countries in the deal. And you know, that's something because all of those countries already have free trade agreements, this is not a big economic deal. In fact, the one country that could have actually made a big deal, which was India, quit the whole thing like a year and a half ago and just said, “We don't even want part of this reduced brand.” So the other countries all have deals with each other. And even though this doesn't really have much in the department of contents, the common rules of origin are really the only there there, which is why I really say it's a brand. But you know, the folks who have been saying, “TPP we should do it” have been saying that all along. You know, frankly, if they thought they could get away with it, they would say we need to have TPP to avoid an alien abduction or a zombie apocalypse. I mean, they would make any damn argument. So, you know, to some degree, that the RCEP is a competing deal and we're left out Heaven forbid or it's China's deal, that has as much validity as doing the TPP to avoid a zombie apocalypse. It's just it's a non sequitur goofiness. But of course, they're gonna bring that up ‘cause you know, people know there is no zombie apocalypse. And people don't know what those three initials are RCEP even mean. So that is something we're going to need to stay on top of. My sense is politically, the Biden folks, even if they would be inclined to buy the bologna, understand this would be a political third rail that would undermine their domestic priorities and basically doom the Biden presidency from day one.


Ryan: And this is probably just the first example of many that we'll see of attempts to reestablish the status quo corporate rigged trade policy set, in the Biden administration.


Lori: I mean, the reality is that if they want to use it, the incoming administration has enormous leverage on trade. The previous administration, US Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer, broke a lot of furniture. So at the WTO, with respect to China, there is a lot of leverage sitting there that this administration could use. It would be an enormous mistake if they just lifted the China tariffs, which thankfully, this morning, President-elect Biden said he wasn't going to do or if they just decided, “let's start appointing WTO tribunalists and get that system working again,” which so far, they have not said they're going to do. But if they would do that, it would just be like, you know, it would be like having someone on third base with a known home run hitter at the plate, and then deciding that they would just, you know, basically, with all the bases loaded, decide to foul themselves out. I mean, it would just be a huge waste of potential leverage and ability to actually get some of the things done that working people and the planet need as far as trade policy. Now, the flip side of that is that having basically broken all the furniture and the world didn't end, a Biden administration that wants to do the right thing inherits also from the Trump administration, a lot more policy tools. So everyone said when Lighthizer started doing things like tariffs on China, or jamming up the WTO, everyone said, “Oh, my God, it's going to be the end, perhaps the earth will fall off its axis and hurl into the sun. Or at least we'll have a major worldwide depression.” And these are the kinds of arguments that get made every time someone wants to do something to use trade policy leverage to try and actually change the rules. And Lighthizer did it. And he had the spine to do it. And all these horrible things didn't happen, which basically demonstrates that if the right person is chosen for the trade representative’s job, then that person has a lot of leverage and has a lot of new tools to actually do the right thing. But you are spot on right, Ryan, that we are going to have to fight and keep the pressure on because, you know, there is a whole set of former Obama administration, former Clinton school people who are getting a bunch of top jobs. And you know, look, just at Secretary of State was a big, you know, “oh, we should be inside the TPP. If we're not inside, then other people will write the rules.” That's Tony Blinken. Now, I doubt he knows the rules basically favor China because I don't think he's going to be a total squish on China. But there are a bunch of people who have that mindset, that sort of State Department's silo, “I don't know what's in there. But I'm sure it's good for us to be in some agreement.” So there's going to be work to do, for sure there's going to be work to do. But I think what we need to do is basically keep the focus on the political price of doing the wrong stuff, and to try and keep the pressure on with a big welcoming, thank you hug of the president-elect, following through on the things he promised: moratorium on new agreements, fix the old agreements so that we can have the Buy America expansion and the climate policies and health policies we need. And then hopefully, we'll spend that time in the moratorium figuring out what a good trade model is, and we can build on the progress that was made in the NAFTA revisions.


Ryan: Rethinking trade is produced by Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, I would encourage you to visit as well as to educate yourself and to find out how you can get involved in the work we're doing to fight for fairer and more equitable trade policies.

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Will Biden push a pro-people and planet trade agenda?

There is a lot to celebrate about the end of a presidency marked by racism and xenophobia, false promises to working people and record tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent.

The fact is, Trump failed to deliver an end to job offshoring or to revitalize U.S. manufacturing. Nor did he achieve changes to the Chinese government’s predatory practices or reduce our unsustainable trade deficit.

But his 2016 promises to do so were powerful because they connected to real and severe damage that many Americans suffered from so-called “trade” policies.

Now more than ever, we must prevent a continuation of the pro-corporate trade agenda that too many past presidents have pushed – both Republicans and Democrats.

In order for President-elect Joe Biden to deliver on his most fundamental promises to the American people, he must create a new approach to trade.

And if he fails to deliver, no doubt a right-wing autocrat will seek the presidency by exploiting many Americans’ anger over offshoring and trade job losses.

Many core elements from Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan conflict with existing U.S. trade agreements and policies, including those related to major Buy American investments in infrastructure, climate-related energy policies and standards, expanding access to affordable health care and medicines, and more.

That’s because the corporate guarantees and constraints on government action that are baked into current “trade” pacts — and the race-to-the-bottom regime of hyperglobalization they promote — conflict with Joe Biden’s goals of creating the good jobs necessary to battle economic and social inequalities, ensuring all Americans have affordable healthcare and medicines, and averting climate catastrophe.

The good news is, President-elect Biden has made some big promises on addressing our current, corporate-rigged trade rules, including:

  • Imposing a moratorium on “new trade agreements until we have major investments in American workers, including (a) modern, job-creating infrastructure, (b) widespread investments in education and worker training” and “targeted support for American manufacturers, and (c) specific investments in communities to build up research and manufacturing hubs.”
  • Appointing “experts from organized labor and the environmental movement to work in trade negotiating and enforcement positions” and making sure that “labor and environmental advocates are at the table from day one in future trade deals.”
  • Aggressively pushing “for strong and enforceable labor provisions in every trade deal my administration negotiates – and not sign a deal unless it has those provisions.”
  • Opposing “the ability of private corporations to attack labor, health, and environmental policies through the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process” and opposing “the inclusion of such provisions in future trade agreements.”
  • Banning fossil-fuel subsidies, slapping tariffs on imports that produce high amounts of carbon and putting emission reduction commitments into trade deals.

Our job is to build the public pressure needed to make these promises realities.

One early indicator of President-elect Biden’s trade policy plans will be who he appoints as U.S. Trade Representative – the top U.S. trade official.

As they say in Washington, “personnel is policy,” so this decision will tell us a lot.

Unfortunately, some of the candidates being floated are the same old, revolving door, corporate lobbyists and neoliberal fanatics who got us into our current trade policy mess.

We need a USTR who represents the growing Democratic consensus that our trade policies and pacts need a major overhaul.

Joe Biden will inherit a policy and political landscape on trade totally transformed since the Obama presidency ended.

This moment presents significant opportunities to reshape U.S. trade policy to benefit working people, consumers and the planet’s environmental health.

Sign our activist volunteer form to help us win new trade rules that raise wages, lessen economic inequality, counter the climate crisis and challenge corporate power.

While we continue to monitor numerous trade deals being negotiated by the Trump administration as well as the implementation of the revised NAFTA deal, we are building momentum to win big, progressive trade policy changes in 2021.

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The Asian Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Lots of Hype, But Not Really a Big Deal…

By Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that was signed today among 15 Asian nations is more of a brand than a major trade deal. Negotiations that boosters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) once tried to spotlight as a worrisome Asian-led competitor that should spur the United States into TPP ultimately fizzled into an exercise that has become newsworthy for simply ending.  

Amidst all the breathless hype about the pact covering 30% of the global economy and 30% of the global population, there has been little attention to the deal’s limited terms. Unlike the TPP, an agreement with 30 chapters of which only six actually focused on trade, the RCEP is about trade, although with many limits:

  • RCEP’s actual trade terms are limited in that it does not cover all goods or zero out tariffs and excludes most agricultural goods.
  • RCEP’s coverage of the service sector is not comprehensive.
  • RCEP does not include the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) regime.
  • RCEP does not set uniform product standards.
  • RCEP does not have a procurement chapter.
  • RCEP does not address state-owned enterprises.
  • RCEP does not have enforceable “digital trade” rules.

Just as the U.S. Congress rejected the overreaching TPP, many countries involved in the decade of RCEP negotiations rejected the old corporate-favored trade-pact model. India exited the process altogether. Although some of the remaining countries aspired to a TPP-style deal, it became apparent that either there would be a much more limited agreement or no agreement.

India’s exit is one reason the pact will have little effect on the global or U.S. economy. Optimistic projections are for 2/100s of a percent in growth gains. The pact’s impact also is limited by the fact that most of the nations involved already have trade deals among themselves. Some RCEP proponents hope it could somehow magically unjam various configurations of China, Japan and Korea trade talks that have dragged on for years. But that a decade of RCEP negotiations resulted in more of a brand than a trade deal suggests otherwise. RCEP’s main benefit probably is its rules of origin (ROO), which will replace the ROOs of the various bilateral and plurilateral pacts among the RCEP signatories.

And no, RCEP is not “China writing the rules.” RCEP is not a Chinese initiative, but rather came from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN*). The RCEP final text, which connects the ten ASEAN nations with Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea, is based on ASEAN terms.

The RCEP will not go into effect until its signatories conduct domestic approval processes. But because of its relatively “shallow” terms, approval is not expected to be controversial. This contrasts with the TPP’s fate. It remained scores of votes short of approval in the U.S. House of Representatives from when it was signed in February 2016 until the end of the lame-duck session of Congress in December 2016. In 2017, shortly after being sworn in, President Trump formally pulled the plug with a notification that the United States would not be ratifying the TPP.

*ASEAN members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.


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COVID-19 Vaccine Access vs. Trump Trade Protections for Pharma

By Mariana Lopez

Disponible en Espanol aqui

U.S. trade policies have made it difficult for patients to access the medicines they need for far too long. The Trump administration has only exacerbated this problem.

Last week, the United States joined several other countries to block a temporary waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules that require all WTO signatory countries to guarantee pharmaceutical firms expansive monopoly protections for medicines and medical technologies. These WTO terms could create legal barriers and undermine efforts to produce enough affordable doses of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine and other medicines and medical equipment necessary to end the COVID-19 epidemic and save lives worldwide.

While Republican and Democratic administrations alike have prioritized Big Pharma’s interests in trade pacts and policies, this latest development comes in an entirely unprecedented context: More than 1.1 million people have died from COVID-19 in the past ten months and many more will absent widespread access to vaccines, treatments and life-saving medical equipment.

Public Citizen was among 400-plus of civil society groups worldwide to support India and South Africa’s proposed waiver to sections of the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement that guarantee pharmaceutical firms expansive monopoly protections

Dozens of WTO member countries agreed, arguing that the waiver would help countries disproportionately affected by COVID-19, especially those with limited manufacturing capacity to supply their populations with vaccines and other medicines, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other pandemic-related medical goods.

The pandemic has revealed the flaws in the hyperglobalized system of production that corporate-backed trade policies and intellectual property barriers have created. In addition to access to critical medicines and medical supplies being undermined by trade-pact monopoly protections for drug and medical device manufacturers, long, thin supply chains mean production problems in one nation quickly translate into shortages worldwide of medicines or chemicals needed to make medicines and components of ventilators and other medical equipment. With individuals, hospitals and even entire nations, struggling to access PPE and critical medical goods during this time, the temporary waiver that India and South Africa proposed would help ease affordable access and address growing inequities within and between nations.  

According to a Geneva-based trade official, India tried to persuade the United States and others to “put people’s lives before anything else.” Trump administration officials at the WTO didn’t see it that way.

The U.S. government’s position was: “Weakening IP [intellectual property] protection and enforcement would be counterproductive to our global fight against Covid.” This despite numerous studies showing that extending IP exclusivities for pharmaceutical companies has led to higher prices for medicines, not to greater investment in innovation or development of affordable treatments and vaccines.

Public Citizen estimates that taxpayers have contributed at least $70.5 million to develop Gilead’s Remdesivir, an experimental COVID-19 treatment. Meanwhile, according to Doctors Without Borders, Gilead has signed non-transparent deals with several handpicked generic companies, excluding much of the world’s population from access to the drug. Additionally, not one pharmaceutical company has opted into the voluntary program, CTAP, created by the World Health Organization, which encourages global sharing of IP, data and technology to increase access to COVID-19 treatments. “These recent actions by pharmaceutical corporations show that relying on their exclusive rights and limited voluntary actions is not the solution in a global pandemic,” said Doctors Without Borders

The battle over a temporary WTO waiver continues, with the issue expected to resurface at a WTO meeting in early 2021. As Public Citizen’s Burcu Kilic noted in a recent The Guardian op-ed, there is a strong case for suspending pharmaceutical monopoly powers during the pandemic. Simon Lester, of the libertarian CATO Institute think tank, also supports the waiver to remove obstacles so that “all governments can and will take certain measures to protect the public health of their citizens.”

U.S. opposition to waiving the WTO protections for Big Pharma is not the first time the Trump administration has prioritized pharmaceutical corporations’ interests over public health. In 2018, President Donald Trump signed a trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that included giveaways to pharmaceutical companies that would have exported pharma-friendly U.S. medicine policies to Mexico and Canada and locked them in here. But for the efforts of consumer, labor and faith groups and Democratic members of Congress, the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would have established an additional barrier to fighting for accessible and affordable medicines.

The rapid development and equitable distribution of lifesaving vaccines, treatments and medical equipment is not a partisan nor Global North versus Global South dispute. Amidst a global pandemic, it is a human imperative. 

Please tell your member of Congress to take a stand here.

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Acceso a Vacuna de COVID-19 v. Protecciones Comerciales de Trump para Farmacéuticas

English Translation: COVID-19 Vaccine Access vs. Trump Trade Protections for Pharma

Escrito por Mariana Lopez, Traducido por Alma Andino

Las políticas de comercio estadounidenses han hecho medicinas esenciales inaccesibles para pacientes por demasiado tiempo. La administración de Trump solo ha exacerbado esta crisis.

La semana pasada, los Estados Unidos, junto con varios otros países, bloqueó una moratoria de las reglas de la Organización Mundial del Comercio que requieren que todos los países miembros de la OMC garanticen protecciones y control monopolizado sobre medicinas y tecnología médica para corporaciones farmacéuticas. Estas obligaciones podrían crear barreras legales y contrarrestar los esfuerzos para producir suficientes dosis económicas de una vacuna contra el COVID-19 y otras medicinas y equipo médico necesario para controlar la pandemia de COVID-19 y para salvar vidas.

A pesar de que las administraciones Republicanas y Demócratas  han priorizado por igual los intereses de corporaciones farmacéuticas en políticas y acuerdos de comercio, este último desarrollo llega en un contexto sin precedentes: más de 1.1 millones de personas han muerto de COVID-19 en los últimos diez meses. Muchos más morirán si no tienen acceso a vacunas, tratamientos y equipo para salvar vidas.

Public Citizen fue uno de más de 400 grupos de sociedad civil del mundo que apoyaron una moratoria de apartados del Acuerdo sobre los Aspectos de los Derechos de Propiedad Intelectual relacionados con el Comercio (ADPIC) de la OMC,propuestapor India y Sudáfrica; estas secciones garantizan protecciones expansivas de monopolio para corporaciones farmacéuticas.

Decenas de países en e la OMC acordaron, argumentando que esta moratoria ayudaría a países desproporcionadamente afectados por COVID-19, especialmente aquellos con capacidades industriales limitadas que están luchando para proporcionar a sus poblaciones vacunas y medicina, equipo protectivo, ventiladores, y otro equipo médico.

Esta pandemia ha expuesto defectos en el sistema hyper-globalizado de producción que fue creado por políticas de comercio promovidas por corporaciones y por barreras de propiedad intelectual. Además del limitado acceso a medicinas críticas y equipo médico causado por protecciones de monopolio instauradas en acuerdos “comerciales, las cadenas de producción son largas y frágiles. Esto implica que problemas de producción en un país causan escasez global de medicinas y partes necesarias para hacer medicinas, ventiladores, y otro equipo médico. Mientras individuos, hospitales y naciones enteras luchan para acceder equipo médico crítico durante esta época, la moratoria propuesta por India y Sudáfrica ayudaría a facilitar el acceso económico y a combatir las crecientes desigualdades dentro y entre países.

De acuerdo con un oficial de comercio basado en Ginebra, India intentó convencer a los Estados Unidos y otros países para que “priorizaran las vidas por encima de todo”. Representantes de la administración de Trump en la OMC no estaban de acuerdo.

La posición del gobierno americano es: “La debilitación de protección y aplicación de IP [propiedad intelectual] sería contraproducente para la lucha global contra el COVID.” Sin embargo, varios estudios han demostrado que la extensión de derechos de IP para corporaciones farmacéuticas ha causado precios médicos más altos, en lugar de mayores inversiones en innovación o desarrollo de tratamientos y vacunas económicos.

Public Citizen estima que los contribuyentes estadounidenses han contribuido por lo menos $70,5 millones para desarrollar Remdesivir de Gilead, un tratamiento experimental contra el COVID. Mientras tanto, según Médicos Sin Fronteras, Gilead ha firmado tratos clandestinos con varios compañias genéricas, excluyendo a la mayoría del mundo de acceder a esta droga. Adicionalmente, ni una compañía farmacéutica ha entrado en el programa voluntario, CTAP, creado por e la Organización Mundial de la Salud que fomenta el intercambio de IP, información, y tecnología para aumentar el acceso a tratamientos para el COVID-19. “Las acciones recientes de corporaciones farmacéuticas muestran que confiar en sus derechos exclusivos y acciones voluntarias limitados no es la solución en una pandemia global”, según Médicos Sin Fronteras.

La lucha sobre esta moratoria sigue y probablemente emergerá de nuevo en la reunión de la OMC al principio de 2021. Como ha notado Burcu Kilic de Public Citizen en un op-ed reciente en The Guardian, hay buenas razones para suspender los poderes de monopolio de las compañías farmacéuticas durante la pandemia. Simon Lester, del instituto libertario CATO, también apoya la moratoria para eliminar barreras para que “todos los gobiernos pueden tomar y tomen medidas para proteger la salud pública de todos sus ciudadanos.”

La oposición de Estados Unidos contra la moratoria de protecciones de la OMC para compañías farmacéuticas no es la primera vez que la administración de Trump ha priorizado intereses de corporaciones farmacéuticas sobre salud pública. En 2018, Trump firmó un acuerdo transnacional que incluía el trasplante de políticas a favor de corporaciones farmacéuticas a México y Canadá. Sin los esfuerzos de grupos de consumidores, sindicatos, y grupos religiosos, y congresistas demócratas, el nuevo Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte (TLCAN) habría establecido más barreras contra la lucha por medicinas accesibles y económicas.

El desarrollo rápido y la distribución equitativa de vacunas, tratamientos y equipo médico no es una disputa partisana o nacionalista, tampoco es una lucha entre el Norte y el Sur Global. En una pandemia global, es un imperativo humano.

Por favor pida a su congresista que haga lo correcto.

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