In December, the world’s leaders will meet for two separate important global meetings. The global climate talks in Paris aim to chart a course for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The World Trade Organization ministerial in Kenya will advance global trade rules. Unfortunately, the two meetings will take place without acknowledging the inescapable connections between free trade rules and climate change.
Globalization – largely promoted through free trade agreements – has brought about more expansive and complex supply chains.1 Liberalized trade agreements, extending more rights to transnational corporations, have been linked to increased GHG emissions attributable to industrialization and the global transportation of goods and services.2 Though globalization has contributed to economic growth in some countries, there has been extensive documentation of how it has also brought increased fossil fuel consumption and environmental degradation.3,4,5
Many concerned with globalization’s effect on the environment advocate for more emphasis on localized systems. These localized systems emit fewer GHGs due to smaller supply chain networks. Nate Hagens, of the Post Carbon Institute, stated in a July 10, 2014 lecture, “A lower consumption, more local and regional future is not only needed [for reducing carbon emissions] but probably more desirable [for creating community].”
The congressional vote on Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) has entered into a period of what appear to be rather convoluted twists and turns. Whether that path eventually leads to its approval—giving the President authority to negotiate trade deals in secret and then bring them to Congress for a yes or no vote, no amendments allowed—or to its defeat is simply impossible to predict at this point. The way this debate is playing out highlights several basic concerns, starting with transparency but extending to the content of the trade deals as well.
Fast Track is an extraordinary surrender of congressional authority to the President. It was first created during the Nixon administration, and has been granted for a total of only five years in the last two decades. It last expired in 2007. If approved, the current bill would cover the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and any other trade deal that could emerge in the next six years. Much of the focus in the media has been on TPP, since that agreement is closer to completion, but the proposed TPA is much broader than that, and extends into the completely unknown terrain of the next presidential administration.
The Obama Administration claims that the new round of secret trade deals will be the greenest ever. Its latest attempt to sell that story was released earlier this week in a slick new report titled “Standing Up For The Environment: Trade For A Greener World.” As with most of the spin coming from the U.S. Trade Representative these days – there’s a lot of “trust us” bluster in the report, marketed with unattributed numbers and fancy graphics. But, perhaps most notably, it ignores the largest environmental issue of our times – climate change – and the numerous concerns raised by environmental groups about how these trade deals will damage the climate, not protect it.
While the report touts new provisions on wildlife protection, animal trafficking and illegal logging, we’ll have to take the Administration’s word for it. The environmental chapters for the Trans Pacific Partnership (with 11 Pacific Rim countries) and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (with Europe) are still secret documents. But there are good reasons for concern. A leaked version of the TPP environmental chapter posted on WikiLeaks last year was ripped open by U.S. green groups for not being “fully enforceable.”
On May 8th, President Obama told a crowd in Oregon: No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws. Twelve days later, the House Agriculture Committee voted 38-6 to repeal in its entirety country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) for beef, pork and poultry. The House vote came in response to a May 18 ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the U.S. had violated global trade rules by requiring supermarket labels on beef and pork to indicate where livestock was born, raised and slaughtered. The meat industry is elated.
The longstanding principal goal of U.S. trade policy is to advance U.S. economic interests.
So, why is the Obama administration fighting so hard to help Monsanto -- a company that is openly trying to slash its taxes by moving its headquarters from St. Louis to Switzerland?
Earlier this month, Monsanto made an initial offer to purchase the Swiss-based Syngenta. The deal, if completed, would allow Monsanto to move its headquarters from outside St. Louis to Switzerland, thereby reducing U.S. corporate tax payments. According to financial analysts at Piper Jaffray, Monsanto would gain – and U.S. taxpayers would lose – about $500 million per year in tax revenues.
It would also create the largest seed and crop chemical company in the world.
At this moment, the Obama administration is undertaking a high profile effort to knock down global resistance to genetically engineered food and crops. It is advancing trade treaties both for Europe (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP) and Asia (Trans Pacific Partnership, TPP) to accomplish this goal.
Monsanto is the world’s largest producer of seeds, many of which are genetically engineered. It would be a major beneficiary of these treaties.
There were some decidedly Kafkaesque aspects of the Congressional debate this week on Fast Track legislation, designed to speed through the passage of secret trade deals that could have a serious impact on our food system. At first, the Senate refused to approve a bill to limit debate on Fast Track. Then, when the Senate did approve that bill, it turned out the real debate over Fast Track wouldn’t be happening in the Senate at all, but rather in the House (but not yet).
What?? Essentially, the Senate votes this week were over a procedural mechanism (cloture) to bring Fast Track to a vote (but not yet over Fast Track itself). The actual Fast Track vote will likely come in the Senate in the next few weeks. As we’ve discussed before, Fast Track would limit Congressional debate on trade agreements to an up or down vote, no amendments allowed. It would include the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP, with 11 other Pacific Rim countries) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, with Europe) and any other trade agreements negotiated over the next six years, including those completed by the next President. The votes this week were notable mainly because the Senate action had been expected to pave the way for a much more contentious vote in the House of Representatives. And it didn’t work out that way at all.
While it might seem obvious that the rights to water and food are inextricably linked, all too often policies around their use and governance are developed for one without regard to the other. To address this problem, the UN Committee on World Food Security formed a High Level Panel of Experts and charged it with weaving these two policy strands together. The resulting report provides a list of recommendations on the critical issue of Water for Food Security and Nutrition.
Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the foremost international and intergovernmental platform trying to address global food security and nutrition challenges. Following the food crises of 2008, it initiated a reform process, increasing stakeholder participation, especially participation by those engaged in small scale food production systems. It also created a High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) mechanism to gain deeper understanding and ‘independent scientific knowledge based analysis and advice on issues related to food security and nutrition. Since its establishment HLPE has brought out nine reports. I was fortunate to serve on the most recent project team, which just completed its report on Water for Food Security and Nutrition (FSN). The launch of the report is this week.
As the Senate lurches toward consideration of Fast Track, it's important to remember that the debate is more than a political game. Fast Track Authority is an abdication of Congressional responsibility and accountability. Adding insult to injury, the trade agreements that such authority would, in effect, guarantee are the product of non-democratic and secretive processes heavily engineered by corporations. Chiseling away at what is left of our democracy isn’t popular among the majority of the people who vote for Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians. That is why there is unity among the opposition to Fast Track, and that is why President Obama has a political problem on his hands that will not be solved by offering rides in Air Force One, or by promising to offset the inevitable (and proven) destruction of jobs that will follow right on the heels of ratifying two new trade agreements should Fast Track be approved. Ultimately, representatives of the people in Washington DC have to get elected. And anyone who steps up to vote YES on Fast Track authority will have a hard time explaining, quite soon, exactly why they dodged their responsibility to ensure that trade agreements serve the interests of the people. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians. Voters.
Coming up May 8, HBO will air another episode of Vice, the Emmy-winning documentary series coming out of the Vice Media group. Already this season, Vice has addressed topics from the challenges facing us due to growing antibiotic resistance, to how much of the $10 billion in reconstruction and relief aid sent to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake has actually reached and helped Haitian communities.
The May 8 episode will focus on the future of our food system, in particular, the role of GMOs in helping us achieve a sustainable and food-secure future. Vice interviewed IATP's Director of Agroecology and Agriculture Policy, Dr. Jahi Chappell, to respond to the claims they heard directly from Monsanto about how useful, necessary, and safe GMO crops are. Dr. Chappell's arguments follow:
Although recent pieces in the popular media and press have dismissed critics of GMOs as being anti-science or ideological, many credentialed scientists, myself included, argue that the “GMO = Science” line is incorrect. I would point to three reasons why:
(An editorial from IATP president, Juliette Majot in response to an April 25, 2015 editorial in the Minneapolis StarTribune endorsing Fast Track legislation currently before Congress.)
Fast-track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), supported by the Star Tribune in an April 25 editorial (“Congress should pass ‘fast track’ on trade”), requires Congress to all but abandon its oversight role in trade negotiations, reducing that role to a yes-or-no vote on negotiating texts of enormous importance to nearly every part of our economy and governmental operations.
The Star Tribune writes that critics of U.S. trade policy “mischaracterize” this trade negotiations system as “somehow secretive.” In fact, the U.S. trade representative has chosen to negotiate trade agreements under Executive Order 13526, which classifies negotiations as national security information. The public cannot read what is being negotiated ostensibly on its behalf until the agreement is completed, signed by the president and presented to Congress. Under “fast track,” no amendments are allowed. Indeed, members of Congress can currently only read the negotiating texts under armed guard and without being able to take notes. Only advisers cleared by the trade representative, overwhelmingly corporate lobbyists, have substantive input to the content of the negotiating texts. This process is the very definition of “secretive.”