Celebrating common sense?

Posted July 14, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Used under Creative Commons license via Wikipedia user AKS.9955.

Last week, there was a bit of good news on the trade front: on July 8, tobacco giant Philip Morris lost its ridiculous case against Uruguay’s cigarette labeling laws. In 2010, the multinational company’s Swiss subsidiary—which owns its operations in Uruguay—sued the country over rules designed to discourage cigarette consumption, especially by young people. As in a similar case against Australia, the company alleged that requiring labels that emphasize the dangers of smoking lowered the value of its intellectual property rights (i.e., its trademarked labels) and therefore, its investments. The case was brought under the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in a bilateral investment treaty between Switzerland and Uruguay. ISDS empowers companies to sue governments in private tribunals over measures that undermine their expected profits. It has become a lightning rod for controversy in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

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Monsanto wins on Senate GMO labeling “compromise”

Posted June 28, 2016 by Ben Lilliston   

On July 1, Vermont’s law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods will go into effect. That simple requirement to inform consumers about what they are eating sent a shiver through a Congress hooked on millions of dollars in biotech and food industry money. In a last minute desperate attempt to block the Vermont bill, Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow proposed a new mandatory Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling bill that would pre-empt the rights of states like Vermont to set labeling rules for GMO food.

The problem with the compromise is that it’s not really a compromise – it’s very close to what Monsanto and the food industry asked for. The industry’s priority was to avoid at all costs mandatory language or a GMO symbol on food products. The compromise bill gives food companies two options: they can use a symbol or clear language that the product contains GMOs, or they can use a bar code or QR code that could be accessed by the consumer through a smartphone. Smaller food companies would have the option to just list a website or an 800 number for consumers to find out whether the food contains GMO ingredients. Wonder which options the food companies using GMO ingredients will choose?

Many consumers don’t have smartphones to access QR codes or the instant high-speed internet access necessary to check a website on the spot when buying foods. And do you want to call an 800 number with each individual food purchase?

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Coordination on agriculture policy could undermine developing country interests.

Posted June 10, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Used under creative commons license from world_trade_organization.

U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman at the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2015 in Nairobi Kenya

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part five in a five part series.


Both the U.S. and EU have stated their intention for TTIP to be the “gold standard” for other agreements. This could mean that rules set in TTIP could become the default position at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other trade talks. Early in the TTIP talks, the U.S. proposed a special chapter that would encourage the EU and U.S. to work together to eliminate “localization barriers to trade”—measures that favor local content or preferences for local businesses—used by other countries not party to TTIP. It’s not clear if that idea ever saw the light of day, but now, the EU is proposing a chapter on Agriculture that could also serve to unite pressure on developing countries to conform to EU and U.S. proposals.

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Proposals on regulatory cooperation would lower standards

Posted June 9, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   Sharon Anglin Treat   

Used under creative commons license from oragriculture.

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part four in a five part series.


“Regulatory Cooperation” is an apparently benign name for an insidious process that would be inserted into trade agreements to establish new tools for corporate “stakeholders” to frame and dominate the development of virtually any kind of public regulations as they are being developed or even to weaken or eliminate existing rules. The U.S. and other TPP members took a first run at it in that accord, although what resulted was mainly a voluntary forum. Leaked drafts of the plurilateral Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) call for similar disciplines on Domestic Regulations. The TTIP push for Regulatory Cooperation also advances that idea, with slightly different approaches coming from the EU and U.S.  

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Tariff reductions could disrupt local farming systems

Posted June 8, 2016 by Shefali Sharma   

Used under creative commons license from beantin.

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part three in a five part series.


Though the main critique of TTIP has been its sweeping impacts on rule making and standard setting in the two regions, further agricultural tariff liberalization will have a major impact, in particular in the E.U.  The leaks offer a first look at which agricultural goods will be on the line. While average tariffs on goods traded between the U.S. and EU are quite low, those figures obscure substantial differences on key products, some of which currently protect vulnerable farming sectors that are already suffering from low prices and unstable markets. In a memo describing tariff reduction offers dated November 20, 2015, the EU notes the intention under TTIP to eliminate tariffs on 97 percent of goods. While exactly how this will play out will only become clear during the final “endgame” of the negotiations, the memo describes substantial, and in many cases, abrupt changes in tariffs on farm goods. As of November, the EU was offering to lower more tariffs than the U.S., but in the latest round of negotiations in April, the U.S. reaffirmed its goal for total tariff elimination. The EU still opposes this position in the interest of its most sensitive agriculture products.

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Local governments could be required to abandon buy-local requirements

Posted June 7, 2016 by Sharon Anglin Treat   

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part two in a five part series.


One of the EU’s key offensive interests in the trade talks has been to open U.S. public procurement programs at all levels of government to bids by EU firms, removing policies that support local employment, local content or portions of contracts set aside for small businesses. While many states have agreed to those kinds of commitments in previous trade deals (although the number has dwindled in recent agreements), this could mean an unprecedented expansion to municipal and county governments and agencies. As indicated in the Tactical State of Play document, so far, the U.S. has been cool to proposals to commit local governments on procurement. Exactly which state or local governments or institutions would agree to those commitments would be indicated in an annex to the Procurement chapter text. That annex was not leaked, and probably doesn’t yet exist.

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Secret science would help streamline biotech and other food product approvals

Posted June 6, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from USDAgov.

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part one in a five part series.


To judge by the U.S. proposals in the leaked TTIP chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, which includes food safety rules, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is seeking to export a flawed regulatory system to the EU, a system based on risk assessments that rely often on inadequate, secret data. While the leak indicates that the U.S. is trying to use TTIP to impose its weaker system for setting and enforcing SPS standards on the EU, this new transatlantic regulatory regime would also limit efforts in the U.S. to improve food safety standards and performance.

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When elephants dance: potential TTIP impacts on developing-countries’ farms

Posted June 2, 2016

Used under creative commons license from celinet.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has the potential to transform agricultural trade between the United States and the European Union. TTIP could potentially lower tariffs and non-tariff barriers on a range of agricultural goods. While the impact of this on U.S. and EU food and farm systems has been heavily debated, there has been much less discussion of its possible impacts on developing countries. Could TTIP make it more difficult for developing countries to export, particularly goods which many communities have come to heavily rely on for their livelihoods?

TTIP is at the forefront of the “new era” of trade deals in that it seeks to move beyond simple reduction in tariffs towards regulatory harmonization on issues such as labor and environmental standards. In an agricultural context, tariff barriers and regulatory harmonization in areas where the U.S. and the EU differ, such as pesticide use, have garnered the most attention in the negotiations. While many states are implementing innovative pesticide regulations, in general, U.S. standards are lower than those in the EU. However, the push for regulatory convergence within TTIP—advocated by lobby groups such as CropLife America—would push standards to the lowest common denominator, while reducing individual U.S. states’ ability to regulate pesticides, as well as future efforts to regulate pesticide use within the EU.

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Phantom Liquidity and Agricultural Price Shocks

Posted May 11, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from scrippsjschool.

Defenders of high-frequency trading (HFT) claim that they provide necessary capital to commodity derivative markets that enable commercial users of commodities to trade in “liquid” markets, i.e., to manage price risks by buying and selling what they want, when they want. However, HFT orders provide capital to the market milliseconds before computer-automated trading systems (algorithms) cancel those orders. In other words, HFT provides phantom liquidity by emitting trade order price and volume “noise,” but very rarely executed trade information that is usable by commercial traders. HFT administers nearly continuous micro-shocks to price formation.

Farmers and ranchers rely on derivatives markets to set benchmark prices and price trends for forward contracting of grains and oilseeds to local grain elevators and of livestock to stockyards. When HFT “hot money” creates price volatility and price surges with little, if any, relationship to supply, demand and other fundamental factors, derivatives prices no longer help forward contracting. The “hot money” traders induce price volatility not only on U.S. markets, such as the Chicago Board of Trade, but also on Chinese commodity markets.

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Farm and Rural Groups Ask Congress to Reject TPP

Posted April 29, 2016 by Ben Lilliston   

The controversial new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been a tough sell for the Obama Administration. The top four Presidential candidates oppose its passage and support in Congress is waning. The road to TPP approval got a little tougher when 161 food, farm, faith and rural organizations sent a letter to Capitol Hill urging lawmakers to reject the deal.

“The main beneficiaries of the TPP are the companies that buy, process and ship raw agricultural commodities, not the farmers who face real risks from rising import competition. TPP imports will compete against U.S. farmers who are facing declining farm prices that are projected to stay low for years,” the organizations wrote.

At a time when the farm economy is struggling, the 12-nation TPP is being sold as a boost to farmers. But many farm groups are not buying it.  “Trade deals do not just add new export markets—the flow of trade goes both ways—and the U.S. has committed to allowing significantly greater market access to imports under the TPP,” the groups explained.

An IATP paper earlier this month raised concerns about the impact of increased imports of milk and whey protein concentrates from the largest dairy exporting company in the world, based in the TPP country New Zealand. U.S. dairy farmers are already suffering under a climate of extremely low prices.  

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