U.S. incoherence on human rights and trade

Posted July 23, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from un_photo.

Trade agreements require that all domestic regulations undergo “trade impact” or cost-benefit analyses before implementation to demonstrate that they are “least trade restrictive” and “necessary” to protect public and environmental health, worker safety and other public interest objectives. United Nations human rights advocates have responded by proposing that all trade agreements include provisions for “human rights impact” studies before and after implementation.

As the United States attempts to finalize the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a human rights requirement in the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill signed by President Barack Obama on June 29 may reduce the TPP members by at least one, despite White House claims that fast track TPA protects human rights. The human rights debate over trade has heated up in Washington and Geneva, the home of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

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A rallying cry for a better trade system

Posted July 23, 2015

 The Austrian Parliament

“What is your chlorine chicken?” was the question, midway through our five-day, nonstop tour of seven European cities to talk about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the largest bilateral trade agreement in history, currently being negotiated between the United States and the European Union. The very public European rallying cry “no chlorine chicken” not only sums up fundamentally different food safety and agricultural practices in the EU and U.S., but also the possibility that TTIP will dilute the precautionary principle that guides EU environmental and health policies, ultimately compromising small-scale farms and diminishing quality of life.

It was a good question and worth some thought. Is there an issue or catch-phrase that sums up American views on TTIP?  After all, I was in Europe on a TTIP speaking tour (organized by the Greens and European Free Alliance of the European Parliament), along with Thea Lee, AFL-CIO economist and deputy chief staff, and Melinda St. Louis, Director of International Campaigns for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, to talk specifically about the American point of view.

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The TPP: a corporate attack on public interest law disguised as a trade agreement

Posted July 14, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from afge.

Note: The following blog was submitted as a commentary in mid-June to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which declined to print it.

Peter Orszag’s attempt to discredit Senator Elizabeth Warren’s leadership of the movement against fast-track Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement neglects to disclose his financial interest in TPP and to accurately characterize the TPP (“So trade with Asia is OK if it benefits your own port?” Star Tribune, June 15, 2015).

Orszag identifies himself accurately as the former Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama. But he left the Obama administration in 2009 to become Vice Chairman of Investment Banking and Corporate Strategy and Chairman of the Financial Strategy and Solutions Group at Citigroup. Citigroup received more than $2.6 trillion in ultra-low interest Federal Reserve Bank loans from 2007 to 2010 to save it from bankruptcy (according to a Levy Institute study by James Felkerson).

In May, the banking group pled guilty to a felony for price-fixing billions of dollars of trades in foreign exchange rates. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted to waive felony penalties to allow Citigroup and other felon banks to continue to do business as usual. Neither Orszag nor any Citigroup executive was personally charged with a crime, but his strategic role in defending Citigroup drives the underhanded animus of this screed.

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Greece: No to austerity, yes to democracy

Posted July 2, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff   

The people of Greece are at a critical moment as the country teeters on the verge of financial default. This is a clear case of the people against global banks and financial institutions. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy urges all of our friends and allies to stand together with the Greek people and say no to the banks.

Greece is getting the kind enhanced financial torture from the European Union that the poor and working class received from Obama in the 2008 financial meltdown. Banks were bailed out and the people left to make do. The slow recovery in the U.S. has helped us to forget the days when ninety year old grandmothers, like Addie Polk in Akron, Ohio, were killing themselves in the face of bankruptcy and foreclosure. But in Greece, a country similarly brought to its knees by uncontrolled banks and corrupt politicians, the majority of its citizens have yet to experience any relief.

Years of austerity imposed on the Greek people have failed to solve the problems confronting the birthplace of democracy. Five months ago, the Greek people elected a progressive party called Syriza to say no to the austerity policies of the IMF and European Union. The Greek government has called for a referendum on Sunday, July 5th, when the people of Greece can say whether or not they want to submit to more unemployment, wage cuts, destruction of pensions, regressive taxes, and deregulation.

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The geopolitics of TTIP: Who decides on rights?

Posted June 25, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from european_parliament.

For the past year, IATP has been working with partners Europe and the U.S. in a project to consider the potential impacts of TTIP on the rest of the world. As part of those efforts, we participated in a meeting in Brussels on TTIP and the Caribbean-Latin American region (CELAC). The title of the project working paper, “TTIP: why the world should beware,” indicates the general tenor of the Brussels meeting, which took place during the EU CELAC Summit and a tempestuous European Parliament debate about TTIP.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has characterized TTIP as a ‘high standards’ 21st century trade agreement that non-TTIP countries will want to join if they want access to the U.S. and EU member state markets. However, nobody asked the non-TTIP governments if they will now agree to new trade policies that they successfully have resisted at the World Trade Organization. According to the Brussels meeting participants, TTIP, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) would force the “rest of the world” to trade, invest and develop their national economies according to rules decided by U.S. and European Union negotiators.

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Spring time in Europe for Climate Smart Agriculture

Posted June 24, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @PostLandfill.

The hazy term “Climate Smart Agriculture” (CSA) came into sharper focus this month after a series of high-level intergovernmental meetings that prioritized corporate-led solutions. While actual climate negotiators were immersed in talks in Bonn during the first two weeks in June (as part of the lead up to the annual UN climate meeting later this year in Paris), other groupings circled around the term at other key international summits. The most powerful western governments, known as G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and the United States), had their annual gathering on June 7 and 8 in Schloss Elmau, in Bavaria, Germany. CSA was on the agenda in both places, and it was also an important focus of the 39th session of the FAO held in Rome from June 6 to June 12, 2015.

CSA advocates define food security in the context of water and climate challenges, often equating it with increasing agricultural productivity and resource use efficiency. While increasing productivity of the resources is indeed desirable, unfortunately it is often conflated with increasing private sector investments in land, water and agricultural infrastructure in developing countries, and in the African continent in particular. 

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Corporate ROI on Fast Track

Posted June 22, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Opponents of Fast Track rallying outside Senator Amy Klobuchar's office in Minneapolis. 

When fast track trade authority squeezed through the House of Representatives last week by 10 votes, big corporate donors breathed a sigh of relief. They had heavily invested in political donations and K Street lobbying power to advance their trade agenda—and expected a return on investment.

And it has been quite an investment. According to Maplight, corporate interests supporting Fast Track contributed more than nine times as much money to House members ($197 million), compared to interests opposing Fast Track ($23 million).

Now, the Fast Track fight returns to the Senate where the flood of corporate money flows just as rapidly. The Guardian, analyzing Federal Election Commission data, reported that corporate members of the U.S. Business Coalition for TPP contributed $1,148,971 to U.S. Senate campaigns between January and March 2015—an average of $17,676.48 was donated to each of the 65 “yea” votes in a previous Fast Track vote in May.

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It’s Never Been about Trade

Posted June 19, 2015 by Juliette Majot   

Used under creative commons license from riebschlager.

Fast Track approval of highly secretive trade agreements that will threaten local food procurement programs across the U.S. and give corporations the standing to sue governments for lost profits passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a slim margin of ten votes yesterday.  It was a nasty battle, with House proponents succeeding only through cynical political and procedural brinksmanship.  The same strategies will be on display next week in the U.S. Senate. Fast Track (officially called Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA) now requires additional approval in the U.S. Senate. Expect more brinksmanship, less honesty and certainly less democracy. 

Supporters of Fast Track authority -- many of whom took their few minutes on the floor of the House debate to claim (disingenuously) that the behind-the-scenes, corporate-led trade negotiation process (and abdication of congressional responsibility when it comes to trade agreements) -- is really very democratic  have decided that the American way forward is to make the process even more undemocratic. And that means getting Fast Track approved as fast as they can by burying important pieces of the Fast Track package here and there in other popular pieces of legislation.  Nothing up my sleeve.  Presto.

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Treaties, Trade Agreements and Government by the People

Posted June 15, 2015

For much of our history, trade agreements were considered treaties. According to the Constitution they had to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The House does not participate in ratification of treaties (Article II, Section 2).

By the late 19th century Congress realized it was far too cumbersome to require a Congressional vote to change individual tariffs, so they delegated to the President the authority to use tariffs as a flexible tool in the exercise of foreign policy.

In the 1970s trade agreements stopped focusing on tariffs and began addressing an increasingly broad group of rules (e.g. procurement, copyrights and patents, product standards, subsidies, environmental standards) called non-tariff trade barriers. Modern multi-faceted trade pacts have more to do with pre-empting national, state and local rules that could favor communities or regional economies or domestic businesses or the environment than with lowering tariffs.

Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution gives Congress a little wiggle room by making a distinction between “treaties” and “agreements”. Congress can change the ratification process for agreements. But it is highly probable that the Constitution’s Framers would have expected Congress to do so only with respect to agreements of limited importance.

In 1974 Congress made clear it thought otherwise. That year Congress acquiesced to a dramatic reduction in its and by extension the citizenry’s authority over trade rules. Under the new procedure the President was allowed to unilaterally negotiate the final terms of a trade agreement. He would then present the final agreement to Congress, which would be unable to change it in any way and would have a limited time for debate. Instead of requiring ratification by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, trade pacts would require only a simple majority from both chambers.

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A Game of Chicken

Posted June 11, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff   

Used under creative commons license from Meena Kadri.

Last week the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that India is unfairly preventing the import of poultry and eggs from the U.S.  India instituted the ban against U.S. dumping of poultry products in 2007, ostensibly to protect against the spread of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu, though more likely to protect its own rapidly growing domestic poultry industry from giant U.S. companies like Tyson. The Obama administration's aggressive challenge to India’s ban sends a clear message to trading partners, particularly those in the Trans Pacific Partnership, that the U.S. will not tolerate trade barriers against U.S. corporations; we are sure to see more disputes brought to the WTO in the future.

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