March 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

An Executive Order issued by President Trump today begins the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan is the first regulation in the U.S. to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants, but the rule has been stalled in the courts since February 2016. The Executive Order also revokes a requirement to factor climate change into environmental reviews, rescinds the Department of the Interior’s moratorium on new coal mining leases on federal lands, and tosses out the social cost of carbon in evaluating regulations. This is a disastrous setback for addressing climate change and for rural communities across the country that stand to benefit from the rapidly developing clean energy economy.

Climate change is already disproportionately impacting rural communities, which are often economically dependent on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, or other natural resource-based industries. These industries are dependent on the weather, and will become increasingly volatile and risky as climate change worsens. Furthermore, rural communities have higher average poverty rates—18.1 percent compared to the urban poverty rate of 15.1 percent. Lower average incomes in rural areas mean that residents spend a larger percentage of their income on energy costs, which will be exacerbated as climate change leads to more extreme temperatures throughout the year. At the same time, much of the production in the new climate friendly economy will occur in rural areas through renewable energy deployment, reinvigorated local food economies, and other food and fuel production. Rural communities will play an integral role in responding to climate change, and stand to benefit from a climate policy that includes their concerns.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The assessments of the new healthcare proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from House Republicans and the Trump Administration are rolling in. And they are not good, particularly for farmers and rural Americans. After a firestorm of criticism, Republican lawmakers have made some minor revisions to the initial proposal, but none address the plans’ core weaknesses. The bill is slated to be voted on by the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Health care has long been a major challenge for farm families, with many spouses forced to get off-farm jobs largely to gain access to health care. In an article on the Daily Yonder, Missouri farmer Darvin Bentlage described a common situation for farm families after he suffered a series of health problems without health insurance. “I had to go back and refinance the farm,” he said. “By the time the two years was up, I had run up between $70,000 and $100,000 in hospital bills.”

Saturday, March 18, 2017

President Trump’s proposed budget, released last week, includes massive cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a series of other programs important to rural communities. The budget sets benchmarks for major cuts across the board, while increasing defense spending and allocating $1.5 billion to start work on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is ultimately Congress’ responsibility to write and appropriate money for the nation’s budget, but President Trump’s budget proposal reflects a troubling development of not prioritizing or even understanding farmers and rural communities.

The proposed cuts to the USDA concern discretionary spending and are among the highest of any agency – a 21 percent proposed cut ($4.7 billion). The proposed cuts do not impact mandatory spending programs like farm commodity programs or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); details on mandatory programs will come in May. But the budget does hit programs with discretionary funding like rural development, research and international food aid. The agency heads will have some discretion to determine how the cuts will take place, but because Trump has been so slow to select a USDA Secretary (the last of his cabinet picks), and to get the required information to the Senate Agriculture Committee needed for confirmation hearings to proceed, there was no voice representing farmers or rural communities, many of whom supported Trump, in the writing of his budget.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

As representatives from the Pacific Rim gathered in Vina Del Mar, Chile, this week, the United States was on the sidelines. The death of the US-driven Trans-Pacific Partnership should be a wakeup call that we are paying attention to globalization and demanding a trade regime that works for all people, not just multi-national corporations. Over two hundred of our organizations in 15 countries sent a letter to the negotiators in Chile, telling them that a way forward on trade must reject the principles on which TPP was based. Countries should look to Fair Trade for guidance, and even further to their own domestic policies, for a sustainable way to build the global economy.

The stakes could not be higher. The backlash to corporate led globalization has been sharply felt around the world as Nationalist leaders from Donald Trump to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Narendra Modi in India have risen to power, while others in the EU and around the world are gaining prominence. In this era of growing nationalism, it is time for government trade officials to get back to basics. Instead of first asking how trade agreements can increase trade volumes, lower non-tariff barriers, or harmonize regulations, they should start with the question, “Will a trade agreement improve the quality of life for the people in my country?”

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A few years ago, IATP published four reports on the Global Meat Complex: The China Series. Today, we are pleased to launch the Chinese translation of these reports to contribute to the ongoing debate within China about meat consumption. These reports illustrate China’s path to becoming one of the biggest producers of pork, poultry and dairy and the biggest importer of soy, which is critical for the mass production of food animals. These reports provide an overview of China’s production and trade of meat and feed grains and what these trends mean for China’s food security, its environmental quality and its agriculture. They address the emergence of transnational corporations and how this has dramatically changed the fundamental nature of meat production and trade. The series highlights the consequences of these changes on China’s environment and rural makeup as well as impacts on other parts of the world. 

In introducing the series, we write:

Aside from operating in the U.S., the global meat industry is increasingly interlinked with emerging economies. China and Brazil are now not only big agricultural producers and consumers but they have spawned a new set of agribusinesses that is shaping the global meat complex.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Last week we highlighted the contradictions in the Trump administration’s stance on trade in our blog on Robert Lighthizer. The contradictions have only increased this week with the announcement that Andrew Quinn will be joining the National Economic Council. Quinn is a former Deputy US Trade Representative, and was a lead negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) since 2012. Trump bashed the TPP throughout the campaign and withdrew from the trade deal in his first week. 

Quinn is a career civil servant, having worked primarily in Southeast Asia, and was also instrumental in the passage and implementation of the Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). How this appointment will gel with other members of the President’s administration, such as open China and free trade critic, Peter Navarro, remains to be seen, but the lack of a coherent trade ideology within the administration only makes the future more unpredictable for anyone looking for answers on trade, including the base who voted Trump in. Re-negotiating NAFTA within his first hundred days appears to be the first campaign promise Trump has broken – he has yet to notify Congress to  trigger the 90-day period prior to re-negotiation.