Action Alert

Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!

The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.

TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.

Please take five minutes and complete the survey. To find out more about these trade agreements, go to

Can Congress Stand Up to Agribusiness Inc?

Posted November 1, 2007 by

Next week, the U.S. Senate will have an important opportunity to level the playing field for farmers and ranchers in the marketplace. The Farm Bill coming out of the Senate Agriculture Committee includes important provisions to restore fair markets (see discussion of Livestock Title here). When the bill reaches the Senate floor, there will undoubtably be attempts to gut those provisions as agribusiness lobbyists go to work. And as IATP's Dennis Olson wrote recently, it is an increasingly concentrated agribusiness sector that has reaped most of the benefits from past Farm Bills.

Most economists agree that if the top four companies control over 40 percent of a market there is some level of market manipulation going on. If that's the case, it's hard to explain the lack of government action to protect farmers and ranchers in agricultural markets.

According to a study published by the National Farmers Union by University of Missouri professors Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan, markets that exceed the four company/40 percent threshold include: beef packers (83%), pork packers (66%), broilers (58%), turkeys (55%), flour milling (top 3 at 55%), and soybean crushing (80%).

For several decades the USDA's office in charge of ensuring market competition, along with the Justice Department's Antitrust division, have said idly by as the agriculture sector has rapidly concentrated. In some cases, the USDA has actually blocked enforcement of competition laws. In the real world, this means that farmers have fewer companies to buy from (seed/inputs/equipment) and fewer companies to sell to. Instead of being able to bargain for the best price, farmers and ranchers have to take what is offered.

Ultimately, competitive markets are important for farmers, consumers and taxpayers. Farmers stand a better chance of getting fair prices. Consumers can have more choices in the marketplace. And taxpayers wouldn't have to pick up as much of the bill, as they do now when the big agribusiness companies push farm commodity prices down below what it costs farmers to produce it.

Unfortunately, the House Farm Bill did not address competitiveness in agriculture markets. To keep competition provisions in the Farm Bill, Senators will have to stand up to one of the most powerful special interests in Washington. Agribusiness is one of the biggest campaign contributors and spends tremendous amounts of money lobbying. It won't be easy.

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