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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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