Posted June 19, 2015 by Juliette Majot
Fast Track approval of highly secretive trade agreements that will threaten local food procurement programs across the U.S. and give corporations the standing to sue governments for lost profits passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a slim margin of ten votes yesterday. It was a nasty battle, with House proponents succeeding only through cynical political and procedural brinksmanship. The same strategies will be on display next week in the U.S. Senate. Fast Track (officially called Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA) now requires additional approval in the U.S. Senate. Expect more brinksmanship, less honesty and certainly less democracy.
Supporters of Fast Track authority -- many of whom took their few minutes on the floor of the House debate to claim (disingenuously) that the behind-the-scenes, corporate-led trade negotiation process (and abdication of congressional responsibility when it comes to trade agreements) -- is really very democratic have decided that the American way forward is to make the process even more undemocratic. And that means getting Fast Track approved as fast as they can by burying important pieces of the Fast Track package here and there in other popular pieces of legislation. Nothing up my sleeve. Presto.
Why? Because proponents are facing burgeoning opposition from the grassroots on up. Representatives in Washington on both sides of aisle (and the space between) are getting the kinds of questions from their constituents that cause real problems in elections; questions like: Why did you grease the skids for trade agreements that have almost nothing to do with trade, and more to do with “pre-empting national, state, and local rules that could favor communities or regional economies or domestic businesses or the environment than with lowering tariffs,” as David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance puts it. Why did you vote to weaken food safety standards, ignore currency manipulation and turn a blind eye to human trafficking? Why did you ignore the truckloads of data that show that despite promises of earlier free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, they managed to increase the gap between the haves and have-nots in each and every country that signed them? Why did you set the stage for trade agreements designed by and for corporate elites at the expense of we the people?
Tough questions. Better to confuse and obfuscate while getting this nasty business done quickly. Better to give voters the time they need to forget.
But we aren’t going to forget. Not this week as we head into battle in the Senate, not the week after that nor the weeks and months that follow.
Popular campaigns to democratize trade agreement negotiations and to oppose the agreements now on the table are being led by an unprecedented coalition of civil society groups that include unions, teachers, environmentalists, family farmers, consumer groups and many others. Unions have made their opposition to Fast Track a defining issue, announcing that they would suspend political contributions until it is resolved and strongly implying that they would make this a key issue in their support moving forward.
If approved, Fast Track will indeed grease the skids for approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and others just like them, because that is what Fast Track is designed to do. Thumbs up, thumbs down, no amendments. What Fast Track will not do is shut up millions of Americans who will fight to ensure those thumbs point down, when the time comes, for these reasons: number one, the process is anti-democratic; number two, the trade agreements are little more than corporate charters paving the way for more corporate power, at the expense of labor, equity, the environment and sovereignty; and number three, we the people understand the first two reasons.
Thumbs down, way down, on the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Posted June 16, 2015 by Tara Ritter
Each year, Environmental Initiative hosts an awards ceremony to honor Minnesota’s most innovative environmental projects. After projects from across the state are nominated, 18 finalists are chosen, and one winner in each of six categories is announced at the awards ceremony. Projects based on partnership and collaboration are highly valued. We’re excited to report that this year a project initiated by IATP and the Jefferson Center, “Morris Engaged: Planning and Action for Climate Resilience,” won the Community Action category.
“Morris Engaged” started in June 2014 when IATP co-hosted the Rural Climate Dialogue in Morris, MN. The Dialogue convened 15 Morris area residents—randomly selected and stratified to reflect the demographic, political and ideological diversity of the region – to study the local impacts of climate change and create a community response to changing climate conditions and extreme weather events. IATP, the Jefferson Center and other project partners—including the University of Minnesota, Morris – worked for months prior to and after the Dialogue to collaboratively identify issues for Dialogue participants to consider, and to secure support to implement the community’s recommendations.
The Dialogue helped spur a larger movement around climate change in the Morris community. New organizations are joining the program and partners are working to implement community recommendations. Recent efforts include:
“Morris Engaged” has proven itself to be a successful model for engaging community members of all different backgrounds, ages, ideologies, and beliefs around climate change in a way that focuses on local impacts and responses rather than politics. The project’s recent Environmental Initiative Award is a true testament to the success of this model of community engagement. Last month, IATP and the Jefferson Center co-hosted a second Rural Climate Dialogue in Grand Rapids, MN, and a third Dialogue is planned for southeastern Minnesota in early 2016. Our goal is to spur similar leadership from within those communities to match the impressive level of civic engagement we’ve seen in Morris.
Posted June 16, 2015 by Pete Huff
Institutions purchasing and serving regionally produced food has gained momentum in recent years, largely driven by the exponentially successful farm to school movement. But this practice has reached a critical transition point in the growth process: how to move from a good idea that is supported by end users to an economically sustainable one with wide appeal for those at the beginning of the supply chain—particularly the farmer that provide the fruits, vegetables and other products for the cafeteria tray.
In the newly released report “Building Minnesota’s Farm to Institution Markets: A Producer Survey,” the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy— along with project partners the Sustainable Farming Association and Renewing the Countryside—summarize the findings of a recently completed survey that identifies some of the key “next steps” that farmers feel are needed to ensure the state’s emerging farm to institution markets work for them. With over 75 percent of survey respondents interested in selling to these markets in the future, it make sense to develop a deeper understanding of how to make them as accessible and successful as possible.
Institutions form the backbone of communities – rural and urban – and have an enormous impact on residents throughout various stages of life. Spanning the educational (e.g. K-12 schools, child care, universities/colleges, etc.), public health (e.g. hospitals, elderly care, etc.) and public service (e.g. government offices, prisons/correctional facilities, etc.) sectors, institutions are major buyers of a huge variety of products—including food. As such, they represent a leverage point for small and medium scale businesses, including farms and the businesses that support them, to move into a larger local market and capture a percentage of that institutional purchasing capacity.
Efforts to orient such purchasing toward local economies are well established and are increasingly focused on food. According to a recent report by Policy Link, “It is estimated that 37 states have laws that require some or all state and local agencies to allow geographic preference for purchasing locally grown food,” making regionally grown food competitive with more conventional food procurement options. When lining up against mainline distributors who operate large aggregation and distribution supply chains, this advantage is critical for small and medium scale producers and the businesses that support their operation (e.g. equipment supply, food hubs, produce processing, etc.).
With decades of trial and error informing its success, Farm to School programs present a possible model for the trajectory of other institutions as they source regionally produced food, individually or collectively. The National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School highlight the rapid expansion of Farm to School activities in their recently released “State Farm to School Legislative Survey 2002-2014.” Citing USDA Farm to School Census data, the report notes: “the number of farm to school programs in the U.S. increased 430 percent between 2006 and 2012,” with over 40,000 schools participating in 2012. Such activity equates to approximately $385 million in local food purchases nationwide.
Within Minnesota, the same 2012 USDA Farm to School census revealed that 72 percent of the state’s K-12 schools were engaging in Farm to School practices—directing over $12 million of their food purchasing dollars toward local purchases of some kind—and that such participation was likely to increase by eight percent in the coming years. Two recent University of Minnesota-Extension surveys on the market potential of food procurement for K-12 schools and health care facilities in northwest and central/northeast Minnesota estimate that a 20 percent market capture of the institutional food procurement market would result in $480,000 and $590,000 for each region respectively. Extended statewide, these estimates would mean that $2.1 million dollars would be directed toward to local producers if one out of every five meals at the state’s schools and hospitals was comprised of regionally produced vegetables, fruits, meat and other products. As small and medium scale farms diversify their farm business plans, institutional markets have the potential for real financial gains.
Beyond the economic potential, institutions as a whole are a different type of market for producers to engage due to the nature of the public services they provide. When well established, efforts such as Farm to School present multiple economic, social, nutritional and environmental benefits for farmers, the individuals who rely on institutional services and the region within which both coexist. The new survey results demonstrate that Minnesota producers are aware of and motivated by these multiple benefits, with two-thirds of respondents noting “relationships with the local community” as the highest influencer of their decision to build business relationships with institutions. Interestingly, over half of the respondents were also highly influenced by the economic potential of farm to institution markets, with respondents ranking “fair, steady prices,” access to an “additional local market,” and the possibility of establishing “reliable/advance contracts” as highly influential. While the survey gauged interest overall, respondents were most interested in exploring the benefits of selling to hospitals, universities and colleges. The increasing influence of the economic benefits evident in the survey is a positive sign that institutional markets are becoming more sophisticated and viable for more producers.
While it is growing, institutional markets can still be difﬁcult for farmers to access, particularly for small and medium scale producers. This is due to a number of systemic challenges (e.g., limited budgets, logistical needs, food safety requirements, etc.) that are difﬁcult, yet not impossible to overcome. Such factors were identified through the survey. Somewhat contradictory to the factors highly influencing engagement with institutional markets, respondents to the survey listed low purchasing prices and volume needs of institutions, low or high, as being the major barriers for entry to or expansion within farm to institution sales. However, the desire for expanded producer aggregation and collaboration to counter these barriers was strong—with 25 percent of the respondents currently engaged in such efforts and over 50 percent interested in future participation.
Such cooperation was not limited to interest in food hubs or other aggregation operations to service institutional markets. Respondents were strongly interested in peer-to-peer learning, as well as greater direct connections with institution food purchasing staff in their region. Specifically, there was interest in regional farmer-buyer networking events, workshops, online directories, webinars and farm visits/field days. Clearly, face-to-face relationships are key to regional farm to institution success. However, the strong recommendation for online forums shows that producers are increasingly willing to engage in new approaches to networking—a finding that should be explored more to help maximize the success of the more time-intensive process of face-to-face relationship building.
On a whole, the future for farm to institution market in Minnesota is bright. However, the growth of these markets must be rooted in the needs of farmers and guided by their leadership. The results of the survey provide a starting point for the “next step” in bringing fresh, healthy and locally produced food to cafeterias throughout the state while also ensuring the social and economic benefits are shared by everyone on the path from farm to table.
Posted June 15, 2015 by David Morris - Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)
For much of our history, trade agreements were considered treaties. According to the Constitution they had to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The House does not participate in ratification of treaties (Article II, Section 2).
By the late 19th century Congress realized it was far too cumbersome to require a Congressional vote to change individual tariffs, so they delegated to the President the authority to use tariffs as a flexible tool in the exercise of foreign policy.
In the 1970s trade agreements stopped focusing on tariffs and began addressing an increasingly broad group of rules (e.g. procurement, copyrights and patents, product standards, subsidies, environmental standards) called non-tariff trade barriers. Modern multi-faceted trade pacts have more to do with pre-empting national, state and local rules that could favor communities or regional economies or domestic businesses or the environment than with lowering tariffs.
Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution gives Congress a little wiggle room by making a distinction between “treaties” and “agreements”. Congress can change the ratification process for agreements. But it is highly probable that the Constitution’s Framers would have expected Congress to do so only with respect to agreements of limited importance.
In 1974 Congress made clear it thought otherwise. That year Congress acquiesced to a dramatic reduction in its and by extension the citizenry’s authority over trade rules. Under the new procedure the President was allowed to unilaterally negotiate the final terms of a trade agreement. He would then present the final agreement to Congress, which would be unable to change it in any way and would have a limited time for debate. Instead of requiring ratification by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, trade pacts would require only a simple majority from both chambers.
In 1993 Congress ratified the far-reaching North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) under the new fast track provisions. NAFTA not only limited national and state sovereignty over a variety of issues but it also established for the first time what has come be known as investor state dispute settlement procedures. Corporations, rather than only governments would have the right to sue. And they could sue for loss of potential profits. And they would do so via a new extra-territorial judicial system that favors commerce over community and corporations over governments.
The NAFTA vote was close: 234-200. Three-quarters of Democrats voting against while 80 percent of Republicans voted in favor. The ratification process of NAFTA was challenged in federal courts, but the courts rejected the challenge, ruling in essence that Congress can at its discretion decide when a treaty is not a treaty and can make the process for ratification as undemocratic as it sees fit.
The authority to pursue fast track expired in 2007. But in December 2009, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), on behalf of the President, notified the country that the President intended to enter into negotiations for a regional, Asia-Pacific trade agreement as if that authority continued to apply.
Today the President is asking Congress to ratify his illegal use of the fast track.
Last week, after the House overwhelmingly rejected a trade assistance act that was formally tied to the approval of fast track authority it passed a standalone fast track bill by a tiny majority of 219-211. Eighty-five percent of Democrats voted against while 78 percent of Republicans voted in favor.
As Paul Ryan (R-WI) has noted, “We’re not talking about passing a trade agreement right now. TPP is still being negotiated. It doesn’t exist yet as an agreement. We’re talking about whether we can even consider a trade agreement…” Representative Ryan is correct that Congress is not voting on TPP. But he’s wrong that if fast track fails Congress will be unable to “even consider a trade agreement”. Of course it can. The question before Congress right now is about how transparent and democratic that consideration will be.
We the people would like it to be as transparent and democratic as possible. Public opinion consistently favors trade but just as consistently solidly opposes fast track. We oppose the remarkable, indeed unprecedented secrecy in which the trade pact has been drafted and the inability of the average citizen, unlike giant corporations, to play a part in that drafting. We condemn the prohibition against changing the document in any way after submission.
And perhaps most of all we are furious about fast track’s foreclosure of extensive and intensive debate on a complex document of far reaching consequence.
If fast track fails the President can still submit a trade bill. And we can then launch a much needed and long overdue national conversation about the benefits and limitations of trade and the dangers of ceding sovereignty to a new international constitution whose goal is to limit democracy and expand corpocracy.
Posted June 11, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff
Last week the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that India is unfairly preventing the import of poultry and eggs from the U.S. India instituted the ban against U.S. dumping of poultry products in 2007, ostensibly to protect against the spread of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu, though more likely to protect its own rapidly growing domestic poultry industry from giant U.S. companies like Tyson. The Obama administration's aggressive challenge to India’s ban sends a clear message to trading partners, particularly those in the Trans Pacific Partnership, that the U.S. will not tolerate trade barriers against U.S. corporations; we are sure to see more disputes brought to the WTO in the future.
Ironically, this latest WTO ruling against India comes just as the U.S. poultry industry has been hit again with a deadly strain of Avian Influenza A (H5N2) that has killed millions of chickens and turkeys. In Minnesota alone, almost 9 million birds have died or been destroyed as a result of the outbreak, the source of which remains unknown. In response, dozens of countries around the world have instituted bans of their own on the import of U.S. poultry products. Vaccines are proving ineffective and shortages in the egg and meat markets are causing price increases and growing concerns about health risks. As experts cast about for possible causes of this epidemic, they rarely consider the most obvious suspect: the highly concentrated productions methods that dominate the global poultry industry.
Poultry production is world’s largest meat industry. In 2014, 86 million tons of broiler meat was produced globally. In the U.S. alone the poultry industry is worth $265 billion annually. The fact that millions of birds are sick and dying and pose a threat to public health should prompt an investigation into an industry that monopolizes the market, exploits and abuses its workers, is unbelievably cruel to the birds and produces a product that is so contaminated with bacteria that the carcasses are rinsed in chlorine to prevent serious illness from eating the meat. In spite of these harsh chemical rinses, antibiotic resistant bacteria, causing severe illness, has also been linked to industrial poultry production.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman was pleased with the WTO ruling because it would supposedly benefit the “50,000 family farms” that are part of the U.S. poultry industry. That same industry, however, is lobbying night and day to remove the enforcement language in the 2008 Farm Bill that should protect contract chicken farmers from abuse and intimidation by the processors. Efforts to reform the poultry industry, led in Congress by Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) recently received a boost from a John Oliver comedy sketch that provided a rare look at how unfairly the U.S. poultry industry treats contract chicken farmers. Without the efforts of Kaptur and Pingree and groups like the Rural Advancement Fund International (RAFI-USA), National Family Farm Coalition and National Farmers Union, those protections would already be gone.
India’s attempt to use the threat of disease to protect its poultry industry (the third largest broiler producer in the world and second largest egg producer) might have failed, but this shouldn’t stop them or some other country from banning U.S. poultry for human rights abuses, anti-trust activity or gross cruelty to animals. The irony is that as poultry production becomes ever more industrialized in developing countries, the same problems of animal welfare, corporate power, contract farming and public health will emerge there. Nonetheless, instead of helping to dump U.S. chicken around the world and destroy agricultural livelihoods in other countries, Obama might pay a little more attention to what is happening on chicken farms in the U.S. Changing our model of production towards a humane method that genuinely supports family farms and public health will go a long way towards reforming global production as well.
Posted June 8, 2015 by Patrick Tsai
In December, the world’s leaders will meet for two separate important global meetings. The global climate talks in Paris aim to chart a course for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The World Trade Organization ministerial in Kenya will advance global trade rules. Unfortunately, the two meetings will take place without acknowledging the inescapable connections between free trade rules and climate change.
Globalization – largely promoted through free trade agreements – has brought about more expansive and complex supply chains.1 Liberalized trade agreements, extending more rights to transnational corporations, have been linked to increased GHG emissions attributable to industrialization and the global transportation of goods and services.2 Though globalization has contributed to economic growth in some countries, there has been extensive documentation of how it has also brought increased fossil fuel consumption and environmental degradation.3,4,5
Many concerned with globalization’s effect on the environment advocate for more emphasis on localized systems. These localized systems emit fewer GHGs due to smaller supply chain networks. Nate Hagens, of the Post Carbon Institute, stated in a July 10, 2014 lecture, “A lower consumption, more local and regional future is not only needed [for reducing carbon emissions] but probably more desirable [for creating community].”
Unfortunately, there are many examples of countries and companies using provisions in free trade agreements to dismantle innovative efforts to re-localize economic activities. In September 2010, Japan and the EU successfully challenged Ontario’s use of a feed-in tariff program (FIT program) for development of its renewable energy sector. The complaint filed through the WTO challenges “buy-local” provisions within the FIT program citing “less favorable treatment to imported equipment” and that it grants “protection to Ontario production.”
Recently, the US brought about a similar WTO case against domestic content requirements under India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (“NSM”) for solar cells and solar modules. Both the Ontario and India programs incentivize local procurement, the type of localization that abates the full effect of carbon emissions attributable to supply chain transportation. In addition, the programs being challenged aid in strengthening these countries domestic renewable energy industries, an industry that directly competes with and emits less carbon than the fossil fuel industry. The Sierra Club points out, “one of the main arguments of Japan and the EU, which launched the WTO case against Canada’s FIT program, is that without the buy-local provisions, Ontario’s market would not be able to sustain any domestic renewable electricity generators.” It is apparent, in these examples, that free trade not only reduces nations’ ability to create more localized systems, but also inhibits growth in renewable energy sectors.
Early in the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) the U.S posed an overt attack on these so-called "localization barriers" to trade. A leaked document from December 2013 proposed that the US and EU work together to pressure other countries to remove those barriers, including programs meant to stimulate and protect domestic industry in other countries. While that specific proposal seems to have disappeared from subsequent negotiating texts, the underlying push to dismantle more localized systems remains.
In an almost comical display of hypocrisy the U.S. safeguards its own energy-providing natural resources through the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) which suggests the U.S. knows just how useful localization measures are for protecting public interest and industrial sectors. The EU has voiced its opposition to the EPCA on many occasions, most recently in a negotiating document on the Energy and Raw Materials chapter of TTIP leaked by the Washington Post. Ilana Solomon of the Sierra Club stated that dismantling the EPCA would establish “unfettered access to U.S. fracked gas and oil.” This is yet another example of how free trade promotes increased fossil fuel extraction and contributes to climate change.
Furthermore, free trade’s negative impact on climate can also be seen in how negotiations have influenced climate policy. The EU committed to reducing transportation emissions by 6% at the 2009 climate meeting in Copenhagen.6 To achieve this reduction the EU proposed the categorization and promotion of fuels based on GHG emissions through the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD).7 However, the FQD has been effectively scrapped due to concerns by Canada and the US “that tar sands may be unfairly discriminated against under the directive.” Euroactiv also states that North American opposition to mandatory fuel standards stems from the ongoing trade negotiations of TTIP. Additionally, an EU official told Euroactiv that the pressure to scrap the FQD came from “the US and the fossil fuels industry.” Pressure from governments and industry undermines climate policies aimed at reducing GHG emissions, and that pressure seems to indicate trade’s true directive.
Fool Me Once....
A report released in May titled “Standing Up For The Environment: Trade For A Greener World,” claims “protecting the environment is a top priority,”8 for the Obama Administration. Interestingly, this document written by the USTR and State Department ignores climate change. Presidents have claimed that trade agreements will raise environmental standards before, and the public has already been duped by this false promise. Negotiators of NAFTA understood that “[l]ow standards directly translate into lower production costs and hence a more potentially lucrative investment environment.”9 Therefore, specific provisions barring lowering environmental standards to attract investment were included within NAFTA intended to maintain and increase environmental standards.
1.) Article 1114 – “deems inappropriate any attempt by a NAFTA party to lower its ‘environmental standards in order to attract or retain foreign investment.’”10
2.) Article 714 – “recommends that the three countries ‘pursue equivalence of their respective sanitary and phytosanitary standards.’”11,12
3.) And mentioned in the Preamble to NAFTA – “The [NAFTA governments], resolve to … UNDERTAKE each of the preceding [among which is the goal to ensure a predictable commercial framework for investment that would create increased investment opportunities] in a manner consistent with environmental protection and conservation [and] STRENGTHEN the development and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.”13
NAFTA proponents believed that, taken together, articles 1114 and 714 would only result in higher environmental standards, a process described as “upward harmonization”.14 These environmentally responsible sounding NAFTA provisions raise the question: How is NAFTA used so often in litigation challenging environmental regulations, either resulting in the repeal of laws and/or large government payouts to corporations? (e.g. Ethyl Corporation v. Canada15, Metaclad v. United Mexican States16, S.D. Myers v. Government of Canada17, Sun Belt Water Inc. v. Government of Canada18, Waste Management, Inc. v. United Mexican States19) The answer to this question is found within NAFTA’s Investment Chapter article 1110 on expropriation and compensation,20,21,22 and articles 1115 to 1138 which set out the rules for negotiation and arbitration, also known as Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions.23 Under these provisions, companies can sue governments over regulations and laws that undermine their expected profits. Halil Hasic, of Southwestern University School of Law, points out that because both articles 1114 and 714 lack an “enforcement mechanism”24 and use language that “indicates that compliance is voluntary,”25 neither clause can effectively safeguard environmental standards from being challenged by ISDS.
Because the negotiating texts of the TPP and TTIP are secret, we can only surmise what might be included from leaked documents and what officials have publicly revealed. Last year Wikileaks posted a version of the TPP’s Environment Chapter. Analysis of the leaked text by Professor Jane Kelsey reveal concerns, similar to NAFTA, of enforceable language and ISDS. The Obama administrations’ insistence on keeping ISDS as-is within TPP and TTIP texts directly contradicts the claim that these secret trade agreements could enhance environmental regulations in any meaningful way.
As corporate transnationalism is expanded and codified by these free trade agreements, future attempts at environmental legislation aimed at mitigating climate change and its devastating effects may be subject to litigation. We were fooled once into thinking NAFTA would raise environmental standards. Let’s not be fooled twice into thinking the TPP and TTIP address our environmental concerns, as the shame will fall directly to us.
1. Mason, M., 1997. A look behind trend data in industrialization. Global Environmental Change 7.2, 113-127.
2. Chappel L., 2007. Transport and climate change: a review. Journal of Transport Geography 15.5, 354-367.
3. Ehrenfield, D., 2005. The environmental limits to globalization. Conservation Biology 19.2, 318-326.
4. Tisdell, C. 2001. Commentary: globalization and sustainability: environmental Kuznets curve and the WTO. Ecological Economics 39, 185-196.
5. Boghesi, S., Vercelli, A., 2003. Sustainable globalization. Ecological Economics 44, 77-89.
6. Patrick Tsai, “Tar Sands How Trade Rules Surrender Sovereignty and Extend Corporate Rights,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy August 2014. 8.
7. Pembina Institute, Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through transportation fuel policy The European Union’s proposed fuel-quality directive and implications for Canadian oilsands producers (The Pembina Institute, 2012. 1.
8. Office of the USTR and US Department of State. Standing Up For the Environment: Trade for a Greener World. May 2015. 1.
9. Halil Hasic. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 139.
10. Halil Hasic. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 138.
11. Halil Hasic. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 139.
12. “Although on its face the Article appears to be concerned with the narrow subject of ‘sanitary and phytosanitary measures,’ its scope is wide-reaching. ‘Sanitary and phytosanitary measures’ are defined in NAFTA as standards that ‘protect human or animal life or health in [a country’s] territory from risks arising from the presence of additive, contaminant, toxin, or disease-causing organisms in food, beverage, or feedstuff.’ Under this broad definition, almost any environmental regulation can be said to relate to ‘sanitary and phytosanitary measures.’ Almost any environmental enactment by a NAFTA party thus can be argued to affect the contents of ‘food, beverage, or feedstuff.’” - Halil Hasic. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 145.
13. Halil Hasic. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 139.
14. Halil Hasic. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 146.
15. Halil Hasic. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 147.
16. Halil Hasic. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 149.
17. David A. Gantz. Potential Conflicts Between Investor Rights and Environmental Regulation Under NAFTA’s Chapter 11. The George Washington International Law Review Vol. 33 651 2000-2001. 666.
18. Joseph Cumming, “NAFTA Chapter XI and Canada’s Environmental Sovereignty: Investment Flows, Article 1110 and Alberta’s Water Act,” University of Toronto Faculty Law Review 65 107 (2007) 117.
19. , David A. Gantz. Potential Conflicts Between Investor Rights and Environmental Regulation Under NAFTA’s Chapter 11. The George Washington International Law Review Vol. 33 651 2000-2001. 669.
20. Halil Hasic. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 pg 139.
21. Joseph Cumming, “NAFTA Chapter XI and Canada’s Environmental Sovereignty: Investment Flows, Article 1110 and Alberta’s Water Act,” University of Toronto Faculty Law Review 65 107 (2007) pg 117.
22. Jason L. Gudofsky, “Shedding Light on Article 1110 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Concerning Expropriations: An Environmental Case Study,” Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business 21 243 2000-2001 pg 258.
23. Jason L. Gudofsky, “Shedding Light on Article 1110 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Concerning Expropriations: An Environmental Case Study,” Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business 21 243 2000-2001 pg 248.
24. Hasic, Halil. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 pg 154.
25. Hasic, Halil. Article 110 of NAFTA: Investment Barriers to “Upward Harmonization” of Environmental Standards. Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas Vol. 12 137 2005-2006 pg 154
Posted June 8, 2015 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
The congressional vote on Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) has entered into a period of what appear to be rather convoluted twists and turns. Whether that path eventually leads to its approval—giving the President authority to negotiate trade deals in secret and then bring them to Congress for a yes or no vote, no amendments allowed—or to its defeat is simply impossible to predict at this point. The way this debate is playing out highlights several basic concerns, starting with transparency but extending to the content of the trade deals as well.
Fast Track is an extraordinary surrender of congressional authority to the President. It was first created during the Nixon administration, and has been granted for a total of only five years in the last two decades. It last expired in 2007. If approved, the current bill would cover the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and any other trade deal that could emerge in the next six years. Much of the focus in the media has been on TPP, since that agreement is closer to completion, but the proposed TPA is much broader than that, and extends into the completely unknown terrain of the next presidential administration.
A big part of the debate—and it really has come down to a very public argument between President Obama and key progressive leaders such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Sander Levin and Representative Rosa DeLauro—has been over the lack of transparency in the trade negotiations. Members of Congress can see only hard copies of negotiating texts, and only in a special reading room; they are not allowed to take notes or to discuss their findings publicly. In an article in Politico, Rep. DeLauro complains that, “You can’t have a staff person [there while viewing the text] unless that staff person has a clearance, even when the document is classified as confidential…Now you can ask questions, but ask anyone if they’ve gotten answers back to any of the questions and the answer is no. Nothing gets changed.” The U.S. is far behind the EU when it comes to transparency in the trade talks and has so far refused to publish any of its negotiating proposals. Though European civil society finds the European Commission’s level of transparency in trade talks highly deficient, the U.S. has set a much lower bar when it comes to openness.
The level of public debate on Fast Track among civil society groups is unprecedented. Last year, when the first Fast Track bill was introduced, more than 600 organizations wrote to Congress outlining the reasons for their rejection of Fast Track and their proposals for a different process that would give Congress a greater role in setting negotiating objectives and ensuring that they are being met before the negotiations are completed. When the current version of Fast Track was introduced with the same problems as the earlier failed bill, that number swelled to more than 2,000 organizations. Unions have made opposition to Fast Track a defining issue, announcing that they would suspend political contributions until it is resolved and strongly implying that they would make this a key issue in their support moving forward.
While transparency in the negotiating process has claimed center stage for the moment, the content of the proposed trade deals is central to the controversy. This is especially true in the ongoing debate over Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) between Senator Warren and the White House. ISDS gives corporations the right to sue governments over measures that affect their expected profits. But it is also about the history of NAFTA, CAFTA and other free trade agreements and the clear understanding that free-trade agreements have contributed to job losses and income inequality.
The latest twist in the Fast Track saga is its connection to Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which provides some funding for workers displaced by free trade. After several prominent Democrats indicated that they would not support Fast Track without it, a new TAA bill was introduced that excludes public sector workers from coverage and pays for the new TAA funding by making cuts in Medicare, the program that provides health care assistance to senior citizens. This outrageous proposal puts supporters of TAA in a tight spot.
Early White House press releases on Fast Track boasted about a new negotiating objective on human rights. None of the negotiating objectives in Fast Track is enforceable, but this one is especially vague, asserting that improvements in the rule of law should lead to progress on human rights. Senator Robert Menendez took this argument a step further, introducing an amendment that would ban the U.S. from entering into trade negotiations with governments that fail to take effective action against human trafficking. Apart from the very dubious link between US foreign policy and human rights, in practical terms this would effectively exclude Malaysia from the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The Senate passed its version of Fast Track on May 22. This was unsurprising since the Senate has historically supported free trade. In fact, it was introduced first in the Senate on the assumption that it would sail through and create political momentum for passage in the House of Representatives. So the fact that it passed only after considerable opposition and the introduction of nearly 100 amendments means that the strategy of paving the way for the House vote failed. When and if the House of Representatives votes on Fast Track, it will consider its own version, with any differences eventually ironed out in a conference committee between the two bodies. But that is a big if. In the meantime, civil society platforms such as the Citizens Trade Campaign continue to mobilize U.S. citizens to pressure their representatives to block Fast Track. As of this writing, it is not at all certain whether Fast Track will come to a vote next week, next month, or perhaps just fade away until a better alternative emerges, one that starts with transparency, values sovereignty over corporate profits and contributes to fair and sustainable trade.
This article was originally written for Heinrich Boell Germany.
Posted June 5, 2015 by Patrick Tsai
Tomorrow, June 6, thousands of people from across the Great Lakes region will come together for the Tar Sands Resistance March in St. Paul, MN. This will be the largest action against tar sands to date in the region; speakers include Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, and Keith Ellison among others. Tar sand extraction and distribution is driven largely by trade policy set out in NAFTA. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has been quoted as saying, “… a major tenet of NAFTA … the U.S. was guaranteed unfettered supply in exchange for unfettered access by Canadian exporters to its market.” The articles pertaining to energy and corporate rights found within NAFTA highlight the shortcomings of our current trade system. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to march against the tar sands. If you believe in fair trade, national sovereignty and human rights, you should attend this rally.
By Congressional Research Service estimates, the tar sands contribute 14% more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional oil.1 The European Union places increased emissions from tar sands at 22% higher than conventional oil.2 Increased emissions are attributed to the extensive processing needed to convert the tar-like bitumen to oil.3 Mining of the tar sands has also lead to massive deforestation in the Alberta province. In terms of climate change and the environment, the tar sands represent a global catastrophe.
Energy independence4 and increasing global exports are among the justifications given for mining the tar sands. While that reasoning may seem laudable to some, it comes at the expense of national sovereignty and the environment. The profitability of tar sands mining and processing is driven and underwritten by questionable policy. Both domestic (Generic Oilsands Royalty)5 and international trade policy (NAFTA article 605 and 1110)6,7 have helped establish markets for this environmentally damaging form of costly unconventional energy.
There are three concepts at the center of the trade debate on tar sands:
NAFTA article 605 or “Proportionality”
The proportionality clause – guaranteeing the U.S. the previous 36 month average of energy exports from Canada - is unique in that there is no similar clause in any other trade agreement, nor did NAFTA’s other trading partner (Mexico) sign on to it.8 Projections by the Parkland Institute show that even a 10-percent decrease in production would cause a domestic shortfall due to trade obligations, leaving Canadians the options of either importing oil from other oil exporters or importing their own oil back from the U.S. Under the proportionality clause, reductions in production from resource management policy,9 climate change mitigation policy or even reductions caused by natural disaster do not release Canada from these trade obligations.
NAFTA article 1110 on expropriation
Article 1110 concerns expropriation, a Canadian term comparable to eminent domain or seizure of property in the United States. Interpretation of article 1110 forms the basis of many Chapter XI environmental regulation disputes. Affected parties have construed expropriation as a perceived loss of profit due to government regulation, which they argue constitutes an indirect expropriation and therefore a government seizure. This “expropriation” of projected profit entitles corporations to sue governments over the regulations they feel are restrictive. In the past this clause has been used to undermine environmental rules. (i.e. Ethyl Corporation v. Canada, Metaclad v. United Mexican States, S.D. Myers v. Government of Canada, Sun Belt Water Inc. v. Government of Canada, Waste Management, Inc. v. United Mexican States)
Canada and U.S. pressure to water down EU emission standards, due to the potential transatlantic energy trade partnerships created through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)
Günther Oettinger, EU energy commissioner, stated in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Washington D.C., “Ensuring a reliable and steady flow of energy is a fundamental requirement for our modern economies and the high quality of life that we have achieved today… And with the growing energy potential of the North American continent, there is the real possibility of a renewed trans-Atlantic energy trade.”
Standing in the way of a tar sands trans-Atlantic energy trade is EU climate policy aimed at lowering transportation fuel emissions. This has been recognized by North American governments and oil companies alike and has been the focus of lobbying campaigns meant to weaken emission standards and eliminate the ability of governments to promote fuels that emit fewer GHGs. The EU committed to reducing GHG emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference (COP 15). In line with their Copenhagen Accord commitments the EU would like to reduce overall life cycle GHG emissions for transportation fuels by six percent. The 2009 Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) was intended to give fuel suppliers a methodology for calculating current GHG fuel emissions and a system of fuel categorization that aids in meeting GHG reduction targets. However, increased lobbying by Canada and the U.S. has effectively stalled the implementation of FQD categorization of fuels.
Join us tomorrow in St. Paul as IATP will be marching against tar sands and free trade’s dysfunction embodied in these three concepts:
1. Undermining national sovereignty of natural resource management
2. Extending corporation’s rights to sue governments
3. Influencing foreign governments to reduce carbon emission standards
1. Richard K. Lattanzio, Canadian Oil Sands: Life-Cycle Assessments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Congressional Research Service, March 15, 2013) 9
2. Pembina Institute, Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through transportation fuel policy The European Union’s proposed fuel-quality directive and implications for Canadian oilsands producers (The Pembina Institute, 2012) 4
3. Pembina Institute, Oilsands, heavy crudes, and the EU fuel-quality directive (The Pembina Institute, March 2012) 4.
4. Marc Humphries, North American Oil Sands: History of Development, Prospects for the Future (Congressional Research Service, Updated January 17, 2008) 1,2.
5. Alberta Royalty Review, Our Fair Share (Canada, September 18, 2007) 7
6. Gordon Laxer and John Dillon, Over a Barrel: Exiting from NAFTA’s Proportionality Clause (Parkland Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, May 2008) 25
7. Joseph Cumming, “NAFTA Chapter XI and Canada’s Environmental Sovereignty: Investment Flows, Article 1110 and Alberta’s Water Act,” University of Toronto Faculty Law Review 65 107 (2007)
8. Gordon Laxer and John Dillon, Over a Barrel: Exiting from NAFTA’s Proportionality Clause (Parkland Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, May 2008) 26
9. Gordon Laxer and John Dillon, Over a Barrel: Exiting from NAFTA’s Proportionality Clause (Parkland Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, May 2008) 28-30<
Posted May 28, 2015 by Tara Ritter
Rural communities are already being affected by a changing climate, and each community’s experiences and responses are unique. Because of the politically-charged nature of the term “climate change” it can be a difficult topic to discuss in rural communities, but addressing the impacts of extreme weather and a changing climate is necessary for community resilience. Last week, 18 residents of Itasca County, MN met for the second of three Rural Climate Dialogues across Minnesota. Few of the people in the room had met each other, but following brief introductions it was clear that they all shared a local sense of pride for the natural beauty of the northwoods and lakes – and concern for its future.
The Rural Climate Dialogues are a joint effort between the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Jefferson Center to engage rural communities in creating bottom-up solutions to climate change. The 3-day process, based on the Citizens Jury model, moves quickly in introducing participants to each other and establishing discussion ground rules to encourage open and productive conversations about controversial subjects. The goal of this gathering was for participants to better understand climate change impacts on Itasca County and create a set of recommendations for how the community can respond.
Over the first two days, participants heard from a wide range of speakers and local experts. First, Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota climatologist, provided a weather history specifically tailored to north central Minnesota. The power of this presentation came from the localized data, which demonstrated that climate change, which is often viewed as a global and distant problem, is already showing up in northern Minnesota.
Building on Seeley’s presentation of climate data, participants heard presentations from Brian Palik, a USDA Forest Service employee; John Latimer, a local phenologist; Tim Goeman, a DNR fisheries expert; Megan Christianson, Executive Director of Visit Grand Rapids; Julie Kennedy, the City Engineer; and Michael Duval, a DNR water expert. These presenters were chosen on the basis of community feedback over six months of lead-up work, which revealed that the most important assets to the residents of Itasca County are the woods, the water, and the workforce. The presentations focused on how climate change would impact (or is already impacting) those community assets. Each presenter also provided a suite of opportunities to respond to climate challenges.
On the final day of the Dialogue, participants streamlined the information from the first two days into a digestible report to share with the rest of the community. This report included the top challenges, opportunities, and actions for Itasca County to address climate impacts, as identified by the participants.
Top climate-related challenges identified for Itasca County included extreme temperature and precipitation reducing the life of capital assets and public infrastructure, emphasizing the need for a long-term perspective in natural resources management, and the need to deal with increased sediment and phosphorus in waterways from storm water runoff. Top opportunities included improving forest management so that forests are more adaptable to changing conditions, ensuring accessible climate information for decision makers at all levels, and changing management of natural systems to reflect a long-term (50+ years) perspective. To respond to the outlined challenges and opportunities, participants emphasized increasing energy efficiency in homes and businesses, planting native grasses and eliminating pesticide use on lawns to create habitat for birds and pollinators, addressing noncompliant septic systems, and increasing participation in public decision making meetings related to public infrastructure systems.
At one point during the Dialogue, two ninth grade students joined the conversation to discuss what they’ve learned about climate change at school. They shared the local climate impacts they found particularly striking, which included how fish populations are shifting and how the local forests would be impacted by the Emerald Ash Borer. After their presentation, one Dialogue participant said, “Global warming is coming, and if you young people get educated, our future looks a whole lot better.” This sentiment was wholeheartedly echoed by the group, who agreed that hearing from the high schoolers – the next generation – was one of the most powerful parts of the Dialogue.
By the end of the three-day process, participants voiced a sense of accomplishment about having come together with their neighbors to create actionable steps to empower their community to act on climate change. However, the goal of the Rural Climate Dialogues is not just to create a report, it’s to serve as a springboard for future action. Following the Dialogue, IATP and the Jefferson Center will remain involved with community members, helping to connect the community to resources and support than can help implement their action items. Since the first Rural Climate Dialogue in Morris, MN, the community applied for and received an Environmental Assistance Program grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to begin implementing some of their recommendations around climate adaptation and resilience. And most recently, the efforts in Morris won a 2015 Environmental Initiative Award.
At the end of the Itasca County Dialogue, one participant said, “I look at the last three days as hopefully a new beginning for this information to get out there for the general public. We have a lot of education that needs to be done in the community and surrounding areas. I’m glad I got to be a part of this.”
Posted May 27, 2015 by Ben Lilliston
The Obama Administration claims that the new round of secret trade deals will be the greenest ever. Its latest attempt to sell that story was released earlier this week in a slick new report titled “Standing Up For The Environment: Trade For A Greener World.” As with most of the spin coming from the U.S. Trade Representative these days – there’s a lot of “trust us” bluster in the report, marketed with unattributed numbers and fancy graphics. But, perhaps most notably, it ignores the largest environmental issue of our times – climate change – and the numerous concerns raised by environmental groups about how these trade deals will damage the climate, not protect it.
While the report touts new provisions on wildlife protection, animal trafficking and illegal logging, we’ll have to take the Administration’s word for it. The environmental chapters for the Trans Pacific Partnership (with 11 Pacific Rim countries) and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (with Europe) are still secret documents. But there are good reasons for concern. A leaked version of the TPP environmental chapter posted on WikiLeaks last year was ripped open by U.S. green groups for not being “fully enforceable.”
The issue of “enforceability” is critical as past trade agreements have routinely failed to effectively enforce environmental and labor-related chapters. The Sierra Club recently pointed out how environmental provisions in the US-Peru trade deal have failed to stop illegal logging. And earlier this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) issued a blistering report documenting how past Presidents have repeatedly made false promises about how trade agreements will protect labor standards.
Missing from the USTR environmental report was how special corporate rights provisions in past trade deals have been used to challenge environmental protections. Two recent anti-environment NAFTA rulings show how these corporate rights cases work in practice. In one case, a provincial decision to block a basalt quarry expansion in an important whale-watching area was overturned by a trade tribunal that sided with the U.S. corporation Bilcon. Another NAFTA case awarded $17.3 million in damages to Exxon Mobil Corp and Murphy Oil Corp. because a Newfoundland law required the companies to spend a percentage of their offshore revenues on local research projects.
Also missing from the USTR report is how both TPP and TTIP continue an extractive model of trade that has not only negatively impacted jobs and equality, but has also been devastating for the climate. Earlier this year, some 40 organizations focusing on rural and community-based responses to climate change wrote Congress calling for a full assessment of the climate impacts of these proposed trade deals. The groups wrote, “There is little question that the economic globalization largely driven by trade deals over the last several decades has contributed to the expansion of fossil fuel and other dirty energy production that cause climate change, expanded deforestation and other methods of natural resource extraction, while undermining local and community-level responses to climate change.”
The groups pointed out that past trade deals, also sold as “green,” are hindering community responses to climate change: rules under NAFTA actually require Canada to export an ever-increasing amount of oil to the U.S., driving further production of dirty tar sand oil; a trade tribunal at the World Trade Organization ruled against an Ontario policy designed to support the creation of green jobs to produce locally-sourced renewable energy; trade rules allowed Swedish energy companies to challenge a German ban on nuclear energy production, undermining the country’s ability to set energy policy; and rules under NAFTA were used by a U.S. energy company to challenge a Quebec ban on fracking designed to protect the St. Lawrence River.
Specific climate concerns about TPP and TTIP include a draft requirement to automatically approve all exports of natural gas to countries included in the agreements. Such a requirement would greatly expand fracking in rural communities around the country. Hydraulic fracturing contaminates water and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Both TTIP and TPP grant multinational corporations additional legal rights to sue governments to overturn local regulations against fracking and the mining of sand for use in fracking.
The new USTR report is the latest contradictory signal from the Obama administration on its commitment to address climate change. This week, Obama addressed the Coast Guard Academy to declare that climate change is “an urgent and growing threat to our national security.” But earlier this month, he opened up the Arctic Ocean to further oil drilling by Royal Dutch Shell Oil. Later this summer, the administration will unveil its Clean Power Plant rule designed to place real limits on greenhouse gas pollution, over the objections of the Republican-led Congress.
Conflicting and confused agendas – masked by corporate style greenwashing – characterize the new USTR report. The Obama administration’s all-out effort to pass fast track, TPP and TTIP threaten to undermine its efforts to address climate change. The environment, and the people living in it, deserve better.