Transformative changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems in order to increase diversity on farms, reduce our use of fertilizer and other inputs, support small-scale farmers and create strong local food systems. That’s the conclusion of a remarkable new publication from the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The report, Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before it is Too Late, included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world (including a commentary from IATP). The report includes in-depth sections on the shift toward more sustainable, resilient agriculture; livestock production and climate change; the importance of research and extension; the role of land use; and the role of reforming global trade rules.
The report links global security and escalating conflicts with the urgent need to transform agriculture toward what it calls “ecological intensification.” The report concludes, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”
The UNCTAD report identified key indicators for the transformation needed in agriculture:
In the midst of worrisome news about droughts, desertification, unreliable monsoons and growing concerns around water security around the world, the announcement by the UNESCO and Kenyan officials at the recent International Water Security Conference in Nairobi was anything but gloomy. The finding of potentially huge groundwater resources in northwestern Kenya is indeed a blessing, not only for the herding communities of drought-prone Turkana, but also for the region as a whole.
Until very recently the region was best known to the global water community both for the lack of access to water that mark the lives and livelihoods of indigenous communities that live there, and for their efforts to save Turkana Lake, the largest permanent desert lake in the world according to International Rivers.
But a recent survey by RTI, a company hired by U.N., found groundwater systems with a potential of storing about 250 billion cubic meters (or about 66 trillion gallons) in the Kachoda, Gatome, Nkalale and Lockichar areas, with the largest aquifer being located in the Lokitipi Basin—all of them in Turkana county, one of the 47 counties in Kenya. Of these, the three smaller aquifers combined are estimated to store about 30 billion cubic meters of water, once confirmed by drilling.
Last week, the U.S. treasury approved the largest takeover by an international firm of a U.S. food company. It paved the way for China’s largest pork processor, Shuanghui, to merge with Smithfield, the U.S.’s largest pork processor. The fact that it was a Chinese company stirred up so much controversy that the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing July 10 entitled, “Smithfield and Beyond: Examining Foreign Purchases of American Food Companies.” A major concern was foreign ownership of the U.S. food supply and whether the U.S. review process of foreign takeovers addresses food safety and “protection of American technologies.” There was little doubt that this merger would be approved by Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS): Shuanghui is willing to absorb over $2 billion of Smithfield’s debt; U.S.
In the wake of protests in the Philippines over genetically engineered Golden Rice, a series of articles have appeared in the U.S. mainstream press (e.g., the New York Times) and alternative publications like Slate and Grist, all coming to the vigorous defense of the latest incarnation of this wonder rice designed to prevent malnutrition. Through veiled and at times explicit condescension, the U.S. media consensus seems to be that opposition to this wonder rice is based on scientific ignorance: Why wouldn’t you want to address global malnutrition?
A gaping hole in U.S. coverage is the perspectives of Philippine farm organizations, like the Asian Farmers Association affiliate PAKISAMA, or really anyone from the Philippines who opposes Golden Rice. By not including these voices, these reports miss a fundamental issue at the center of all issues around genetically engineered (GE) foods: power. Who controls the technology? Who controls what farmers can grow, and what people eat? Not coincidently, these questions are also at the center of addressing global hunger.
As controversy over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has captured most of America’s attention, Minnesotans have been dealing with a different pipeline carrying tar sands bitumen to the United States. On July 17, 2013, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted Enbridge, L.P. a 120,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) capacity increase to line 67, the “Alberta Clipper”, from 450,000 bpd to 570,000 bpd.
On September 3 and 4, a large-scale international Counter Summit, intended as an alternative to the September Summit of the G-20, will be held in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is taking place at the Международный Деловой Центр, nab.reki Smolenki 2, and is organized by the Post Globalization Initiative. The Summit’s ambition is to develop new principles of economic and social policy which are not based on the Washington Consensus. As part of the Summit, world renowned experts, economists, politicians and social scientists from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas will come together for panel discussions, seminars, and public lectures, including Dr. Steve Suppan of IATP. Dr. Suppan will address speculation in commodity markets.
Counter Summits have a tradition of their own. These major international democratic events are commonly held in response to the elites' G-20 and G-8 Summits and represent alternative points of view on the most pressing social issues. The St. Petersburg Counter Summit is especially important in light of the ongoing global economic crisis. It will suggest ways to solve the problems associated with the crisis of U.S. hegemony, "free trade" and the WTO.
It’s increasingly difficult to explain to anyone why multilateral trade talks–once so high on the international policy agenda—are still worth our time and attention. Such attention as international trade garners has moved on to the regional and plurilateral deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the talks between the U.S. and the E.U. Yet at some level it’s obvious that multilateral co-operation matters more than ever. Trade has to be made to work more effectively for a series of objectives, from reducing pollution and natural resource use to supporting livelihoods to building economies that allow a fairer distribution of benefits. At the same time as we support more decentralized and local control over food systems, we know the world also faces problems that require a multilateral framework.
So where is the multilateral trade community focused? Here is the short version:
Last week more than 200,000 Colombians converged on Bogota for a nationwide strike to protest free trade, privatization and poverty. According to Common Dreams, the strike began as a protest by campesinos and spread to encompass teachers, miners and other sectors of society.
I have to admit I was surprised to see that farmers had been hit so hard, since prices for grains have been pretty high over the last few years. Back in the early 2000s, when the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA)—and the U.S.-Central America FTA, U.S.-Peru FTA, and others—was negotiated, the concern was that U.S.-grown commodities would be dumped by agribusiness at artificially low prices onto foreign markets. This was certainly Mexico’s experience under NAFTA. U.S. corn exports to Mexico quadrupled after NAFTA went into effect, and many small-scale farmers were unable to compete. More than two million Mexicans were driven from their lands.
But that was before the 2008 food price spike, when soaring grain prices sparked food riots around the world and, to some degree, a rethinking of agricultural development policies. Concerns over dumping were replaced by attention to extreme food price volatility and the prospect that prices would continue to increase for the foreseeable future.
Proceeding from the commonsense notion (and economic principle) that in a free market, buyers should have access to sufficient information to make educated choices, the law required retailers to tell customers the country of origin of a variety of foods, including meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts. I might not know where all the pieces of my cell phone were made—and there are serious issues with that—but I don't plan to eat my phone. Why shouldn’t I be able to know where my food comes from?
The big meat companies have objected the loudest to COOL. Canadian and Mexican meat groups took the U.S. to court at the World Trade Organization (WTO) when the USDA first announced its regulations for implementing COOL, charging that the rules would discriminate against them, and they won. To the Obama Administration’s credit, they issued a revised rule that actually strengthened COOL, requiring more detail about where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The current suit is intended to block the revised regulations that were issued this spring in response to the WTO ruling.
As two of the largest free trade agreements (TTIP and TPP) in history are being negotiated, free trade agreements like these will become more entrenched in our lives than ever before. Unfortunately, the tangle of rules and regulations—mostly design to keep intact and strengthen corporate interests—can create serious roadblocks for real, earnest work to improve sustainability on the national, state and even local levels. Yes, as local governments work to build policy that includes sustainability standards, they may be on the wrong side of international trade law.
A new IATP report, Sustainability Criteria, Biofuel Policy and Trade Rules makes very clear that if we hope to change policy in any arena—pushing for lower GHG emissions, reducing pollution, producing cleaner energy, or enabling local sourcing—understanding international trade law is an absolutely required first step.
Report author and trade lawyer Eric Gillman uses the state of biofuels policy as a backdrop—including real examples of current biofuel sustainability efforts—to set the stage for examining the larger implications of WTO trade law on all sorts of policy development:
If we are to construct the type of policies needed to address the multiple environmental, social and economic crises that we face, understanding how these policies interact with international trade rules is absolutely required. This paper is a ﬁrst attempt—within the context of biofuel policy—to raise some of these questions and address necessary changes.