One reason the TPP is in such trouble, especially in the United States, is that we’ve heard this story before. Passing NAFTA, CAFTA or other free trade agreements was supposed to mean more and better jobs, improved farm incomes and increasing prosperity all around. But that’s not what happened. In the wake of NAFTA, manufacturing jobs have evaporated, family farms have been decimated and income inequality has increased. Projections that this time around the TPP would generate increasing prosperity are met with a healthy dose of skepticism or outright disbelief.
Another part of the story is the strong opposition across borders. A big outcome of the NAFTA debate was the formation of strong ties among citizens’ groups in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada that refocused the discussion away from one country “stealing” jobs from another to a central emphasis on the role of transnational corporations in driving standards down to the lowest common denominator. An important element of the eventual defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas was the creation of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, allowing national and sectoral coalitions to coordinate analysis and actions across borders.
Last week Mexican civil society groups convened organizations from the NAFTA countries plus Peru and Chile to reenergize that collaboration in the context of TPP and build an action plan moving forward. It was great to see allies from Mexico and Canada, especially the coalitions that began during the NAFTA debate. It was inspiring to meet leaders from vibrant coalitions in Chile and Peru, as well as people working on digital rights and other issues that are relatively new in the trade debate.
The ability of the United States to make its own decisions regarding how, where and why to build transcontinental oil pipelines has been challenged by TransCanada Corporation, which sued the U.S. yesterday for the loss of potential future profits associated with the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. The move represents a threat to both U.S. national sovereignty and national security, given the role of energy policy in protecting the homeland. The suit could also establish a precedent for challenging sovereign rights to address climate change through energy policy, not just in the U.S., but in any country that is party to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The standing of TransCanada to sue the American government is provided not in any formal U.S. legal judiciary setting, but through rules laid down in a trade regime, NAFTA. The terms of this agreement, and other similar trade agreements, are designed to protect the rights of foreign investors over the rights of the states in which they are investing.
If successful, the suit will incur more losses to U.S. citizens than those associated with sovereign rights and national security. TransCanada is asking for $15 billion dollars in lost potential future profits. Furthermore, in an additional suit filed in Houston, Texas, TransCanada is seeking to limit the power of the President of the United States in setting U.S. energy policy by claiming that the Keystone decision was unconstitutional.
The World Trade Organization’s 10th Ministerial Conference, held in Nairobi, Kenya from 15-18 December came right on the heels of the final outcome of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The contrasts were striking, and not just because of the shift from Europe to Africa, from northern winter to equatorial rains, and from environment to trade. There was also the level of interest: everyone who could not be in Paris was watching what went on there from afar, while few came to sit in the make-shift tents put up by the Kenyan Government as an NGO centre. The protest marches, organized by farmers’ organizations, gathered dozens of people rather than the several thousands who had come to WTO Ministerials past. The multinational lobbyists were few, many having turned their attention instead to plurilateral agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Despite its long-standing support for the WTO and its agenda, The Financial Times newspaper did not even send its world trade editor. It seemed that the world could hardly have cared less.
This week the World Trade Organization (WTO) gave Canada and Mexico the right to impose over a billion dollars’ worth of sanctions per year unless the U.S. Congress repeals a common sense law, Country of Origin-Labeling (COOL) for meat (beef, pork and poultry). COOL informs consumers where animals were born, raised and slaughtered before turning into meat. The meat industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying legislators trying to repeal COOL since it was first enacted in 2002. So the WTO case, which has been consistently appealed by the United States Trade Representative since 2008, is a big victory for Big Meat because it gives legislators who are already in their pocket a “legitimate” reason to change the law in spite of overwhelming consumer demand for such labels.
So much of trade policy involves searching through legal texts and leaked documents for clues about what’s coming next. Careful examination of the recently released text for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is already revealing new risks for our food system. Those findings also tell us what to watch out for in the other big pending trade deal—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. Unlike earlier trade agreements focused primarily on reducing tariffs to open up markets, these agreements are likely to include extensive provisions intended to reduce or eliminate state and federal regulations viewed as “trade irritants.” The focus on state and local rules and programs is one of the “innovations” in recent trade deals.
First, the good news. Sort of. Farm to School programs funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provide bidding preferences for healthy, locally grown foods have been kept out of federal procurement commitments in TPP. And, for the time being at least, state and local procurement is off the table. The bad news is that the text directs that “No later than three years after the date of entry into force of this Agreement, the Parties shall commence negotiations with a view to achieving expanded coverage, including sub-central coverage.” No word on how that would be decided or who would be consulted, but it indicates the clear intention to include programs by states, counties and perhaps even public universities or hospitals, at some point in the future. In that case, our clue comes from the TTIP negotiations, where leaked meeting reports indicate that the EU is seeking such commitments from the U.S. for all goods and all sectors.
This is a republished blog post from The Greens / European Free Alliance TTIP page
When State Senator Virginia Lyons thought it would be wise to develop legislation to reduce harmful electronics waste in her state of Vermont, the last complaint she expected to receive was from the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese it seemed, had issue with how new E-Waste reduction measures for Vermont would impact their sales of electronics to the USA.
“I was taken aback” said Senator Lyons at a meeting of the Vermont Commission on International Trade and State Sovereignty. “Why was an issue like better recycling causing such a fuss? They pushed hard on us to change our minds. In the end we implemented the changes, and I’m pretty sure the Chinese are still selling electronics.”
This small anecdote might sound innocuous to some, but it raises compelling questions about the intrusion of other countries into legislators work at state-level. On health and environmental issues, Vermont is known for setting the bar high, and is well versed in the pushback that comes from the powers that be. They were the first state to ban Fracking in 2012, and have worked hard to protect waterway systems and develop coherent environmental and consumer protection policies. This year the state is being sued by a consortium of agri-industry giants lead by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, for introducing labeling requirements for genetically engineered (GE) foodstuffs.
This article is part of New Economy Week, a collaboration between YES! Magazine and the New Economy Coalition that brings you the ideas and people helping build an inclusive economy—in their own words.
President Obama announced his decision last week to reject approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought fuel from the Canadian tar sands through the heartland of the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico. Because this oil emits more greenhouse gases than other forms of fuel, the decision had everything to do with climate change and came just a month prior to the United Nations climate talks in Paris.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama stated. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”
While environmental groups hailed the Keystone announcement, they have criticized the Administration’s push for a massive new trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a big step backward on climate. In fact, the proposed agreement, finally made public last week, is literally in climate denial: nowhere in its 5,000-plus pages do the words “climate change” appear.
English translation of original post by La Jornada
The Union of Dairy Producers of the Mexican Republic and the Mexican Dairy Federation asked the government to refrain from presenting offers in the negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which are being carried out in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, that have not been agreed to by the national sector.
The National Front of Dairy Producers and Consumers demanded that the product be removed from the negotiations. Alvaro Gonzalez Muñoz, the group’s president, explained that the risks are very high, since the nations that make up the commercial bloc will offer very low prices for dairy products, which will lead to the bankruptcy of the majority of the 250,000 producers.
Vicente Gomez Cobo, president of the Mexican Dairy Federation, indicated that the national negotiators “should not use milk producers as a bargaining chip. We are not like textiles or patented medicines.”
Salvador Alvarez Moran, president of the Union of Dairy Producers of the Mexican Republic, explained that the sector is going through a profound crisis, created by the oversupply of milk on world markets, which has led to a 70 percent drop in prices in the last year and a half. “The situation could get worse if we include dairy in the TPP, since New Zealand is the main exporter of milk and cheeses in the world. Its competitive advantages allow it to produce milk at half of what it costs in Mexico.”
He referred to the Mexican dairy supply chain, which is made up of 250,000 farms, of which 96 percent have fewer than 100 heads of cattle, and which generate 635,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Trade ministers and negotiators are meeting this week in Atlanta in what might be the final round of negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Leaving aside the fact that they first announced a “final” round nearly two years ago, it does seem that they are down to a few sticking points. As in so many trade agreements, whether and how to include agriculture is one of those points of controversy. This time, much of the debate focuses on just how much the member countries must open their dairy markets to imports, and whether Canada will be compelled to weaken its dairy supply management program.
These demands come at a time when dairy producers in many countries are reeling from falling prices. After increases in global prices over the last few years, farmers in many countries increased production. Then conditions changed dramatically. Russia banned dairy imports from the U.S, EU and Australia. China substantially increased its own production. According to USDA reports, the price of non-fat dry milk (the main reference price) fell from $1.77 per pound in 2014 to about $0.89 as of September 2015.
Wild swings in supply and demand have pushed many dairy farmers over the edge. According to an article in Bloomberg Business, the U.S. has lost more than 76 percent of its dairy farms in the last 25 years. In the article, Andrew Novakovic, an economics professor at Cornell, said, “This is a problem of globalization. You are exposing yourself to a lot of risk without a lot of control.”
At the end of July, trade negotiators and ministers representing 12 Pacific Rim countries failed to reach agreements on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), leaving the negotiations hanging. Ensconced behind closed doors at the Westin Resort and Spa in Ka’anapali Maui for over a week, representatives were apparently less unified than the hundreds of protestors representing human rights, environmental interests and Native Hawaiians who gathered outside on the Ka’anapali beach. Those activists collectively broke the Guinness World Record for the number of participants in a simultaneous conch shell blowing, a massive kahea (call) to “Stop the TPP by Land & by Sea.”
Protestors fear that continued prioritizing of corporate interests in global trade treaties will derail the ability of Hawaiians to determine the health of their communities and environment.
In a press release issued at the start of the talks, Kaleikoa Ka‘eo, professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii stated, “The TPP is a threat to our sovereignty as Native Hawaiians, and as human beings. This secret trade agreement would allow corporations to control decisions about how we live without any accountability to us, the people of this land.”