Orrin Hatch On TPP: Despite Concerns, Fast-Track Authority Was 'Essential'

Orrin Hatch On TPP: Despite Concerns, Fast-Track Authority Was 'Essential'

6:43pm Oct 08, 2015

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One of the lawmakers with reservations about the TPP's provisions regarding pharmaceuticals is Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a Republican, who joins me now.

Welcome back to the program Senator.

ORRIN HATCH: Well, I'm happy to be with you.

SIEGEL: You wanted the U.S. period of 12 years' protection for a new drug to be adopted by all the countries who were a part of this agreement. Instead, the trade pact has a compromise period of five to eight years. Why is that period so insufficient?

HATCH: Keep in mind in order to get patents, in order to handle the intellectual property aspects of that, it takes these bio companies between 12 and 15 years, and it costs about $2 billion and all kinds of misses to arrive at a therapy that can be used. And if the companies don't have enough time to recoup their costs...

SIEGEL: But just explain to me - is there a balancing interest? That is, I'm not a drug company. I'm a consumer of prescription drugs. Why wouldn't I, like Europeans who need prescription drugs, benefit from biosimilars - the equivalent of generics - maybe making some drugs cheaper at the pharmacy?

HATCH: Well, what's going to happen is is that a lot of companies are just going to go out of business because they cannot recoup the monies. So these are economic concerns. They're also intellectual concerns. They're legal concerns. And what happens - yeah, everybody would like lower drug costs, but the drug costs are going to skyrocket.

SIEGEL: Another area of the TPP that's led you to express some doubts is labor standards. What's the matter with what they've done with labor standards?

HATCH: It's always good to try and bring other countries out of the wilderness and help them to be like our United States of America. Some of these labor standards, though, are very anti-trade and make trade more expensive, more costly and actually stop trade in a lot of ways so...

SIEGEL: But these aren't just U.S....

HATCH: ...We're real concerned about that.

SIEGEL: But Senator, these aren't just U.S. labor standards. These are the International Labour Organization's standards. Supposedly, that's what countries have signed onto, globally.

HATCH: Well, yes and no. I've done a lot of work with the International Labour - ILO over the years, and all I can say is, if you make the standards too stringent then a lot of these countries will not be able to live up to them. And I'm concerned about that. You can go too far, and they've gone pretty far on this agreement.

SIEGEL: We've heard on this program from Sander Levin, a Michigan Democratic congressman, who's the senior Democrat on Ways and Means. He's undecided about TPP, he says, but he likes the labor standards. He sees this as a way of correcting NAFTA, that this is what people have been complaining about - we've lost jobs to Mexico, where they pay a lot less. What's the failure with that logic?

HATCH: Well, we've lost some jobs but we've gained many more jobs because of NAFTA, and NAFTA has really worked. But it's no secret that Sandy's not going to support this, no matter what happens. Yeah, they would like to have very stringent labor standards because that's what the labor unions in this country - who support basically only Democrats - that's what they want.

SIEGEL: One last point. You strongly supported granting this and future presidents fast-track trade authority, which limits your ability as a senator to modify or block agreements like the TPP. Or, you can block it but you can't amend it, I guess. Now that you have a trade deal on the way that you have some problems with, do you have any regrets about supporting that authority?

HATCH: No, not at all. In fact, fast track was essential because you could get tied up in Congress and never get any votes at all, where it provides a means where you can have an up or down vote.

SIEGEL: I'm just curious - would the fact that the vote will come deep into the political primary season, do you think that dooms it pretty much?

HATCH: Well, look, already we're starting to lose people that we had in passing - as you know, the Trade Promotion Authority. And we passed it with 62 votes. We're already starting to lose those. For instance, tobacco has not been taken care of in this. And tobacco state senate - as much as I hate tobacco, we needed to have it in there.

SIEGEL: You need some tobacco state senators.

HATCH: Yeah, well, let me add something else. Dairy is a problem. We've got - and some of the dairy state congress people we have to have, they're very upset about the way dairy has been, in some respects, left out. So in accordance with what I've heard without having read it - and I'm going to reserve my time to read it - I've heard some very trying things that may very well make it impossible to pass.

SIEGEL: Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican, of Utah.

Thanks a lot for talking with us again Senator.

HATCH: You bet, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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