One of the most surprising parts of my visits to Europe around trade issues has been the misconceptions people have about the U.S. And I’m not talking about generalizations about problems in our food system, but the idea that all Americans support free trade agreements. At a recent meeting in Brussels, people from many European countries complained of being branded as anti-American because of the concerns they are raising about TTIP’s impacts on European environment and food systems.
But in fact, campaigns in the U.S. and around the world on TTIP, TPP and other free trade agreements are for the most part not based on nationalism but instead on issues of democracy. Who decides if a community can ban a toxic waste dump, the government or the investor? Under NAFTA’s Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, the investor won millions of dollars in compensation over a Mexican community’s refusal to reopen a toxic waste dump. Who decides on Country of Origin Labeling for beef? Under a WTO dispute brought by Mexico and Canada – with a strong push from U.S. industry -- the U.S. is being pressed to abolish this sensible program. Perhaps the most basic problem with NAFTA, CAFTA, TTIP, TPP and other free trade agreements is that they give new powers to corporations to set those kinds of rules. As trade campaigners know, the issue is not whether the U.S. or Europe wins, but which corporations stand to benefit.
We have entered a new era of corporate rights—where, in their quest to access natural resources around the world, multinational firms now routinely ride roughshod over governments and communities. Two trade tribunal rulings issued last month explain how.
Digby Neck, on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, is a popular whale-watching area. After hearing community concerns about the environmental impact of a proposal to expand a basalt quarry, a Canadian government review panel denied approval of the project. The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador requires oil companies drilling offshore to invest a portion of their profits into local research and development projects. Last month, separate trade tribunals ruled both of these Canadian policies illegal and awarded damages to multinational corporations to compensate them for the loss of anticipated profits under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
These corporate rights cases, known as Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), are rapidly on the rise, says Public Citizen. And based on leaked text from the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) posted last month – they could become even more common in the years to come.
For more than four years, IATP has been submitting comments on proposed U.S. regulations to limit the share of positions controlled by financial speculators in commodity derivatives markets. A position is a financial interest in one or more contracts of a commodity, e.g. Chicago Board of Trade No. 2 Yellow Corn. Commercial hedgers who can show that they have a bona fide commercial need to use the commodity and to manage price risk in a given contract—rather than accumulating contracts without bona fide need, in order to manipulate the commodity’s price—are exempt from position limits placed on financial speculators.
If financial speculators chronically exceed position limits, excessive speculation distorts prices for commercial hedgers, often to a degree where they fail to manage their price risks. For example, food processors will take positions to try to prevent price increases in their raw materials costs. Price risk management failure, if prolonged, can be devastating at every point of a commodity supply chain from producer to consumer.
IATP has submitted what well may be its last comment, for the foreseeable future, on a Commodity Futures Trading Commission rule to establish speculation position limits in 28 of the most frequently traded commodity derivatives contracts, 19 of them agricultural. The “Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010” authorized the CFTC to set position limits by 2011 to prevent market manipulation, excessive speculation by financial entities and price distortion.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is a massive trade deal currently being negotiated between the EU and US, and could have major implications for our food standards if completed.
Laws that check our foods are safe or minimise the risk to people or the planet could be compromised if TTIP goes ahead. Europe's food production and many of our laws are often stricter than in the USA. Yet big business wants food products currently banned in the EU, but on sale in America, to automatically be allowed in Europe through TTIP.
Here are some of the foods produced in worrying ways we could see served up on European plates if TTIP is agreed.
Disinfectant meat washes
Chicken, turkey, pork and other meats are regularly washed or sprayed with disinfectants in the USA. These so-called 'pathogen reduction treatments', such as hyper chlorinated water and acid washes, are supposed to reduce harmful bacteria. But this could allow poor hygiene standards along the food chain to be hidden, with meat being disinfected only at the end before going on sale.
Americans are much more vocal today than we have ever been about the kind of food we eat, where it comes from and what it does to our bodies and our planet. And though powerful agriculture and food corporations are able to stifle laws and regulations that hold them accountable to our interests, these changing American attitudes are forcing a shift in the way Big Food Retail operates. McDonald’s recent announcement to stop using antibiotics used to treat humans is one clear example.
On February 25, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) held another hearing that attacked federal regulations and regulators as an unnecessary burden on corporations, employment creation and economic growth. Among the antidotes that the HSGAC majority will propose is a revised version of the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) (S. 1029 in the previous session of Congress). The RAA advocates and the industry lobbyists for “regulatory cooperation” in free trade agreements are largely the same. There is no such consistency from the White House, which opposes the RAA, but supports industry’s anti-regulatory agenda when it is cloaked in the trade policy euphemisms of “regulatory cooperation.”
The White House has already rejected the 2015 House of Representatives version of the RAA, stating it “would impose unprecedented and unnecessary procedural requirements on agencies that would prevent them from efficiently performing their statutory responsibilities. It would also create needless regulatory and legal uncertainty and further impede the implementation [of] protections for the American public. This bill would make the regulatory process more expensive, less flexible, and more burdensome.” The statement concludes, “If the President were presented with the Regulatory Accountability Act, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
President Obama, like the Bushes and Clinton before him, is all in on expanding the type of free trade multinational corporations love. Unfortunately, these trade agreements fuel an extractive form of globalization that has negatively impacted jobs and inequality, and have also been devastating for the climate. This week 40 groups—many of them focusing on rural and community-based responses to climate change—wrote Congress calling for the rejection of Fast Track trade authority, which would speed through two mega trade deals without fully assessing their impacts on the climate.
The letter is timely. In the next few weeks, Congress will consider whether to surrender their role under the Constitution to influence trade agreements before they are completed and grant the President Fast Track authority. Fast Track limits Congress’ role on trade agreements to an up or down vote, no amendments and limited debate. President Obama wants Fast Track to pass two massive trade deals—the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with a dozen Pacific Rim countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe. Both TPP and TTIP have been negotiated in secret, with only restricted access to the text for Members of Congress (but much greater access for corporate trade advisors).
Later this month, Congress will consider whether or not to hand Fast Track authority over to the President, limiting themselves to a simple up or down vote on two extraordinarily complex trade agreements now being negotiated in secret and without Congressional oversight.
Trade agreements affect a huge range of laws and programs that govern how our economies work, how we grow and sell food, and who benefits—or loses. These trade agreements could set new rules that would:
The new free trade agreements are the biggest ever—the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Pacific nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe. Once in place, free trade agreements often supersede state, local and even federal laws.
Let’s face it, these trade deals are negotiated on behalf of multinational corporations—not farmers, workers or consumers. Fundamentally, these trade agreements are about making it easier for corporations to shift production to where it’s cheapest, while undermining local economies and food systems. They could even grant corporations new rights to sue governments directly if their future profits are threatened. No wonder the negotiations are in secret!
Help stop Fast Track now!
Repost from ARC2020
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks have revealed a contentious debate over local food names, so-called Geographical Indications (GIs). Far from a technical issue, the differing approaches to protections for local food names underscore very different traditions. Karen Hansen-Kuhn and Hannes Lorenzen unpack the issues in this long read.
Historically, European farmers have sought to protect names and processes for certain food products associated with a specific local food culture. GIs were originally a tool used by disadvantaged regions to protect their specific products and receive a premium price for unique, and sometimes difficult natural conditions of production, especially in mountain areas. It has been seen as a tool to keep a higher added value in a specific region and to create closer connections with consumers through clear rules for quality production.
To many Americans, this might sound like an obscure, new issue or appear as a trick of European negotiators to impose barriers in trade. Reports on EU demands to protect what most Americans would consider common food names such as “feta” have elicited surprised and rather derisive comments among Members of Congress and the media. On the other hand, some U.S. local producers of cheeses and specialty goods who are creating their own new traditions, are supportive of this approach and seek to enhance inadequate trademark protections in the U.S.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to renew Trade Promotion Authority, often called “Fast Track,” to complete two controversial international trade deals currently under negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). In attempts to portray this urgency, the President warned of China’s rising power in the realm of trade and global economics, and China is “trying to write the rules,” which would “disadvantage” American workers and businesses. Obama said, “We should write those rules. We should level the playing field.” But who actually writes the rules of these trade deals?
In mid-January, the Trade Benefits America Coalition submitted a letter to Congress leadership, urging the passage of Trade Promotion Authority. The undersigned Coalition members include over 200 of the largest corporations and trade associations in the country, a sample of which include Walmart, Coca Cola, the notorious corporate-led, state-focused ALEC, and four of the “Big 6” pesticide and GMO corporations: BASF, Bayer, Dupont, and Dow Chemical Company. Not one of the Coalition members appear to represent workers, the environment, or public health - a glaring indication of who will benefit from Fast Track and the pending trade deals.