Trade laws undo local progress on food systems

Posted November 20, 2015

Used under creative commons license from rusty_clark.

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.

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US State legislators ‘shocked’ by EU trade deal implications

Posted November 12, 2015

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.

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3 Ways the TPP Will Hurt the Climate—If We Let It Pass

Posted November 12, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

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.

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Dairy producers reject their inclusion in the Trans Pacific Partnership

Posted October 2, 2015

Used under creative commons license from mapper-montag.

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.

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TPP’s shell game on dairy

Posted October 1, 2015 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Used under creative commons license from cafnr.

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.”

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Tension Between Local Laws and Global Commitments

Posted September 16, 2015

photo sourced from

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.”

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Agriculture and supply management in the TPP

Posted August 13, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Analyzing agriculture in trade negotiations as they occur is a little like playing blind man’s bluff. However, in a negotiations “game” with myriad consequences for the domestic regulations that protect public and environmental health and worker safety, among other public interests, the public is blind-folded throughout the negotiations.  The other players are industry lobby groups and governments jockeying to achieve commercial advantage, often by removing regulatory “irritants” to trade through their privileged access to the negotiations process.

And the U.S. mainstream media are happy to play along with the game, as long as they get an occasional sneak peek at negotiations texts that the Obama administration denies to the public. For example, of the latest Transpacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating sessions, the New York Times writes, “A copy of the still incomplete intellectual property chapter, viewed by the New York Times, shows just how isolated the United States’ position is."

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U.S. incoherence on human rights and trade

Posted July 23, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from un_photo.

Trade agreements require that all domestic regulations undergo “trade impact” or cost-benefit analyses before implementation to demonstrate that they are “least trade restrictive” and “necessary” to protect public and environmental health, worker safety and other public interest objectives. United Nations human rights advocates have responded by proposing that all trade agreements include provisions for “human rights impact” studies before and after implementation.

As the United States attempts to finalize the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a human rights requirement in the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill signed by President Barack Obama on June 29 may reduce the TPP members by at least one, despite White House claims that fast track TPA protects human rights. The human rights debate over trade has heated up in Washington and Geneva, the home of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

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A rallying cry for a better trade system

Posted July 23, 2015

 The Austrian Parliament

“What is your chlorine chicken?” was the question, midway through our five-day, nonstop tour of seven European cities to talk about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the largest bilateral trade agreement in history, currently being negotiated between the United States and the European Union. The very public European rallying cry “no chlorine chicken” not only sums up fundamentally different food safety and agricultural practices in the EU and U.S., but also the possibility that TTIP will dilute the precautionary principle that guides EU environmental and health policies, ultimately compromising small-scale farms and diminishing quality of life.

It was a good question and worth some thought. Is there an issue or catch-phrase that sums up American views on TTIP?  After all, I was in Europe on a TTIP speaking tour (organized by the Greens and European Free Alliance of the European Parliament), along with Thea Lee, AFL-CIO economist and deputy chief staff, and Melinda St. Louis, Director of International Campaigns for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, to talk specifically about the American point of view.

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The TPP: a corporate attack on public interest law disguised as a trade agreement

Posted July 13, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from afge.

Note: The following blog was submitted as a commentary in mid-June to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which declined to print it.

Peter Orszag’s attempt to discredit Senator Elizabeth Warren’s leadership of the movement against fast-track Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement neglects to disclose his financial interest in TPP and to accurately characterize the TPP (“So trade with Asia is OK if it benefits your own port?” Star Tribune, June 15, 2015).

Orszag identifies himself accurately as the former Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama. But he left the Obama administration in 2009 to become Vice Chairman of Investment Banking and Corporate Strategy and Chairman of the Financial Strategy and Solutions Group at Citigroup. Citigroup received more than $2.6 trillion in ultra-low interest Federal Reserve Bank loans from 2007 to 2010 to save it from bankruptcy (according to a Levy Institute study by James Felkerson).

In May, the banking group pled guilty to a felony for price-fixing billions of dollars of trades in foreign exchange rates. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted to waive felony penalties to allow Citigroup and other felon banks to continue to do business as usual. Neither Orszag nor any Citigroup executive was personally charged with a crime, but his strategic role in defending Citigroup drives the underhanded animus of this screed.

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