Posted June 11, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff   

TradeIndustrialized MeatLivestockWorld Trade Organization (WTO)

Used under creative commons license from Meena Kadri.

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   

Climate ChangeFree trade agreementsGlobalizationNAFTA: North American Free Trade Agreement

Used under creative commons license from Oxfam.

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   

TradeFree trade agreements

Used under creative commons license from backbone_campaign.

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   

Image credit: MN350

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   

 High school students presenting at Rural Climate Dialogue in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.


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   

Used under creative commons license from Backbone Campaign.

Kayaks protesting Shell Oil's arctic oil drilling platform in the Port of Seattle.

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.

Posted May 24, 2015 by Shefali Sharma   

Industrialized MeatFree trade agreementsLabelingWorld Trade Organization (WTO)

Used under creative commons license from **RCB**.

On May 8th, President Obama told a crowd in Oregon: No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws. Twelve days later, the House Agriculture Committee voted 38-6 to repeal in its entirety country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) for beef, pork and poultry. The House vote came in response to a May 18 ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the U.S. had violated global trade rules by requiring supermarket labels on beef and pork to indicate where livestock was born, raised and slaughtered. The meat industry is elated.

In 2008, Canada and Mexico challenged the U.S. on COOL at the WTO, asserting that it unfairly discriminated against Canadian and Mexican meat. In reality, it was the global meat industry threatened by the idea that if consumers knew how often animals are transported across national borders as they are mass produced, fattened in feedlots and slaughtered, consumers might choose “born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.A." In 2008 alone, the U.S. meat industry spent over $6 million in political lobbying. It spent over $5 million per year from 2009-2012, the period in which the U.S. was revising COOL to make it compliant to the WTO since the U.S. had lost its first appeal at the WTO. In fact, the meat industry has been fighting hard against COOL for more than a decade since it was first passed in the 2002 Farm Bill. In spite of the big bucks spent by Big Meat, Congress has not repealed it because of overwhelming public support for COOL—90% of Americans support such a measure, according to Consumer Reports. Needless to say, civil society including farm, ranch, consumer, labor and other groups, won’t sit quietly. But the fact is that the U.S. has to change COOL or face trade sanctions (though how significant is unclear). The USTR has already indicated it will encourage Congress to revise COOL.

The COOL ruling signifies a much more serious attack on the future of our food system. In the last two years, 70 bills have been introduced across thirty U.S. states to enact mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food . Americans also overwhelmingly support GE labeling. Not surprisingly, agribusiness has also ramped up spending on lobbying on this issue. And as with COOL, when companies know that domestic lobbying won’t be enough—they use binding international trade rules such as those being negotiated in the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (between the US and the EU) to shape food safety and environmental regulations.

The TPP and TTIP are a new breed of trade treaties that specifically seek to harmonize domestic laws and regulations to enable greater corporate profit. So, the WTO ruling has implications for TTIP as well. The European Union also has COOL. In fact, since 2002, the EU’s labeling scheme for beef requires “precise information about where the animal was born and reared as well as the place of fattening, slaughtering and cutting.” Moreover, the EU has expanded COOL. Since April 2015, EU requires origin labeling of fresh, chilled and frozen pork, sheep, goat and poultry meat. In addition, the European Parliament also mandated the European Commission to examine the possibility of extending mandatory labeling for meat used as an ingredient in processed food. So far, the EU’s labeling regime has remained unchallenged at the WTO. But now that the U.S. has seen its COOL struck down, it’s hard to see why it would accept COOL in other WTO member countries without a trade challenge. Moreover, given that agribusiness on both sides of the Atlantic are on the offense to weaken food safety rules in TTIP, COOL could also become a key issue for “regulatory harmonization” in that trade deal, signifying a possible end to the EU’s COOL regime as well.

In the U.S., food and farm groups are becoming vocal about trade policy undermining food policy through the fight on Fast Track to decide whether Congress gets to intervene in trade negotiations and influence them or simply vote yes or no after they have been completed. COOL is a clear reminder, that in fact, Mr. President, trade treaties can and do force us to change our laws. That is why stopping Fast Track in the coming months is also a win for democratizing food policy.

Posted May 21, 2015 by Ben Lilliston    Gary Ruskin, U.S. Right to Know

AgribusinessFree trade agreementsGMO


The longstanding principal goal of U.S. trade policy is to advance U.S. economic interests.

So, why is the Obama administration fighting so hard to help Monsanto -- a company that is openly trying to slash its taxes by moving its headquarters from St. Louis to Switzerland?

Earlier this month, Monsanto made an initial offer to purchase the Swiss-based Syngenta. The deal, if completed, would allow Monsanto to move its headquarters from outside St. Louis to Switzerland, thereby reducing U.S. corporate tax payments. According to financial analysts at Piper Jaffray, Monsanto would gain – and U.S. taxpayers would lose – about $500 million per year in tax revenues.

It would also create the largest seed and crop chemical company in the world. 

At this moment, the Obama administration is undertaking a high profile effort to knock down global resistance to genetically engineered food and crops.  It is advancing trade treaties both for Europe (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP) and Asia (Trans Pacific Partnership, TPP) to accomplish this goal.

Monsanto is the world’s largest producer of seeds, many of which are genetically engineered.  It would be a major beneficiary of these treaties.

Monsanto, in fact, can attribute much of its growth over the last decade to past trade deals. Most other countries around the world, including key markets in the European Union, have taken a more precautionary approach to genetically engineered crops than in the U.S. – both in approvals for agricultural production, and in requiring clear labeling for consumers. In collaboration with the U.S. Trade Representative, Monsanto and the agrichemical industry have aggressively used trade rules in bilateral agreements as well as at the World Trade Organization (successfully challenging Europe’s biotech regulatory regime) to try to strike down higher-standard public health and environmental requirements for GE foods in other countries.

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), in a letter this month to Monsanto urging the company to stay in the U.S., pointed out that the company’s growth is “in large part due to U.S. taxpayer-funded programs and services.” Durbin explained how the company has benefited from government research, the U.S. patent and regulatory system.  In its peculiar way of saying thanks, Monsanto wants to take the money and run.

There seems to be no limit to the lengths to which the Obama administration will go to support Monsanto and the biotech industry.  Earlier this month, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack accused the European Union of undermining efforts to address global hunger, because of a new EU proposal to allow its member countries greater power in regulating GE crops. Vilsack threatened that the EU’s decision raises “serious issues” about the future of TTIP, and officials in Washington have threatened another WTO challenge. The EU’s regulatory approach is troubling to Vilsack and Monsanto because their collective goal is to eliminate what they call sub-federal regulations. In the case of Europe, it is country-level regulations. In the U.S., it is state-level mandatory GMO labeling laws.

Both TPP and TTIP include intellectual property rules that protect Monsanto’s patented GE crops. They also include special corporate rights provisions, known as investor-state rules. These provisions would grant corporations legal rights to potentially challenge new laws, like state-level labeling of genetically engineered foods, that inhibit investors’ expectations. 

Why is the Obama administration doing such huge favors on trade for a company that is trying to cheat U.S. taxpayers by moving its tax headquarters to Switzerland?

Monsanto, in seeking a tax inversion, shows that it has no loyalty to the United States.  So, why is the U.S. government showing so much loyalty to it?

Why are we going to the mat for Monsanto when it is trying to move to Switzerland?

It’s time for the Obama administration to re-think its efforts on behalf of Monsanto.

Posted May 15, 2015 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Fast TrackFree trade agreements

There were some decidedly Kafkaesque aspects of the Congressional debate this week on Fast Track legislation, designed to speed through the passage of secret trade deals that could have a serious impact on our food system. At first, the Senate refused to approve a bill to limit debate on Fast Track. Then, when the Senate did approve that bill, it turned out the real debate over Fast Track wouldn’t be happening in the Senate at all, but rather in the House (but not yet).

What?? Essentially, the Senate votes this week were over a procedural mechanism (cloture) to bring Fast Track to a vote (but not yet over Fast Track itself). The actual Fast Track vote will likely come in the Senate in the next few weeks. As we’ve discussed before, Fast Track would limit Congressional debate on trade agreements to an up or down vote, no amendments allowed. It would include the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP, with 11 other Pacific Rim countries) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, with Europe) and any other trade agreements negotiated over the next six years, including those completed by the next President. The votes this week were notable mainly because the Senate action had been expected to pave the way for a much more contentious vote in the House of Representatives. And it didn’t work out that way at all.

So much of the debate on free trade agreements is about unmasking the corporate agenda in what appear to be obscure legal texts. “Free trade” agreements are for the most part not about trade at all. Writing about Investor-State Dispute Settlement (included in both TPP and TTIP) in The Guardian this week, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz commented, “Rules and regulations determine the kind of economy and society in which people live. They affect relative bargaining power, with important implications for inequality, a growing problem around the world. The question is whether we should allow rich corporations to use provisions hidden in so-called trade agreements to dictate how we will live in the 21st century.”

These rules matter for our food system as well. Whether it’s the GMO labeling law in Vermont, limits on eggs produced in battery cages in California, or ambitious efforts to connect farmers, eaters and decision-makers in food policy councils across the country, people are taking action to create new rules to rebuild our broken food system. On those issues, the bottom line is that trade deals create new obstacles to change.

While the lack of transparency makes it difficult to know the details, free trade agreements are not designed to make our food system safer. They are designed to increase trade by multinational corporations. And, by design, they create an obstacle course for new rules on food safety.

First, we have rules on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards that require that any food safety rules be based on sound science and be the least trade restrictive possible. In practice, these requirements mean that rather than proving that food additives or pesticides are safe before they enter our food system, they have to be proven unsafe before they’re taken out. And regulators are forced to look at what’s most trade-friendly rather than what’s best for public health. 

Second, there are rules on Regulatory Coherence. We know more about what’s in TTIP, but even leaked TPP text from a few years ago shows that each country would set in place a process to vet new regulations and conduct cost-benefit analyses that won’t account for the true benefits for public health and environmental protection.

Third, there is Investor-State Dispute Settlement, which gives foreign companies the right to sue governments over laws that affect their expected profits. Even if a new rule makes it through those first two obstacles, it could run squarely into a lawsuit from investors. This could be used to challenge any laws, state or federal.

How would this play out? Say we have a new rule on food safety or an emerging technology like nanotechnology in food. First, regulators would have to prove that the science is definitive, and the least trade restrictive possible. Then they have to pass through the hurdles of Regulatory Coherence, collect comments and prove it’s the most cost-effective option. Then, if it does pass, any company alleging damages could use the data on costs gathered in the impact assessment as evidence for an investor-state lawsuit. It will become harder and harder to make any new rules that protect public health and the environment.

These rules matter. We also need to know more about what’s in our food, both in terms of its nutritional value and how it is produced. In its 2015 report on trade barriers, USTR lists new food labeling laws in Mexico, Chile, Peru and Japan as unfair barriers to trade. And the negotiating objectives in Fast Track specifically call for action against “unjustified trade restrictions or commercial requirements, such as labeling, that affect new technologies, including biotechnology,” something Rep. Peter DeFazio condemned as the “Monsanto Provision,” since it could be used to knock down GMO labeling in this country and abroad.

We need to rebuild our broken food system. We need new laws to regulate harmful pesticides and food additives. We need better food labels. We need new programs to produce healthier foods at prices that are fair to consumers and farmers. A lot of this is starting to happen at the local level all across the country. We must protect these fragile gains, and find ways for them to flourish, not create new obstacles to change. These trade deals are another way to place our nation’s food safety in the hands of a few food corporations, to diminish the public’s role in ensuring safe food and to weaken the rights of consumers to know what’s in their food.

Members of Congress will continue to be under enormous pressure to approve fast track over the next few weeks. It’s important to reach out directly to your Representatives and Senators, even if you have done so before, to urge them to reject Fast Track. These decisions matter.

Posted May 14, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Food securityWater

While it might seem obvious that the rights to water and food are inextricably linked, all too often policies around their use and governance are developed for one without regard to the other. To address this problem, the UN Committee on World Food Security formed a High Level Panel of Experts and charged it with weaving these two policy strands together. The resulting report provides a list of recommendations on the critical issue of Water for Food Security and Nutrition.

Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the foremost international and intergovernmental platform trying to address global food security and nutrition challenges. Following the food crises of 2008, it initiated a reform process, increasing stakeholder participation, especially participation by those engaged in small scale food production systems. It also created a High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) mechanism to gain deeper understanding and ‘independent scientific knowledge based analysis and advice on issues related to food security and nutrition. Since its establishment HLPE has brought out nine reports. I was fortunate to serve on the most recent project team, which just completed its report on Water for Food Security and Nutrition (FSN). The launch of the report is this week.

The CFS mandated the HLPE to prepare the report in October 2013. In addition to myself, the project team included Oscar Cordeiro-Netto (University of Brasilia, Brazil), Claudia Ringler with the  International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Theib Oweis International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas and the team leader Lyla Mehta, of  Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom.

This is a landmark report in many ways. To begin with, it is the first comprehensive effort to bring water, food and nutrition security issues together. Many analyses conflate food security with agricultural production, and deal primarily with agricultural water use concerns, and more specifically with water withdrawals. Often they even forget the important role that domestic water uses and drinking water and sanitation have for food security and nutrition, as well as their various interlinkages and interdependencies, let alone water and food governance-related concerns.  While smallholder farmers or even consumers seldom distinguish between consumption and production uses, the two uses are clearly considered separately when it comes to policy formulation. To trace out these interdependencies, the report looks at four dimensions of water (availability, quality, stability of water resources, and access to water), as each of them relates to food security and nutrition.

Thus, one of our first tasks was to identify the multiple linkages between water and FSN, in both policy and practice. In doing this we also considered aspects such as water and sanitation for human survival and well-being, and water for maintaining various ecosystem functions. The report is comprehensive also in terms of addressing a range of technical, institutional, socio-economic, cultural and political aspects. Finally, with an explicit focus on vulnerable communities, this report is distinctly different from earlier reports on the issue.

Second, the report looks not only at existing water challenges, but also at emerging challenges in the context of increasing uncertainty. In considering future uncertainties (for example, from climate change), it critically examines several drivers of change (such as increased meat consumption and related demand for feed, and new trends in energy production such as hydro fracking) that can conflict with food security and nutrition objectives. The report emphasizes that much agricultural production is increasingly concerned with non-food crops—corn and soybeans for animal feed, corn and sugarcane for biofuels, cotton, tobacco, etc.--with water often being diverted for export markets. We conclude that water for FSN, especially for small scale food production systems, should be prioritized over export markets.

Third, the report points to two complementary options to increase water, land and agricultural productivity in a range of agroecological food production systems: the first focused on water management (for example, rainwater harvesting, supplementary irrigation etc.) and the second focused on agricultural management (agroecological practices, for example). In doing so, the report takes an integrated ecosystem approach towards managing land, water and biodiversity, an approach that IATP called for in 2009. While recognizing the role of irrigation, the HLPE report specifically calls attention to the need for making rain-fed agriculture a more resilient and reliable option, since it has the largest potential to help address FSN in the 21st century.

Fourth, the report makes some important recommendations concerning the different processes affecting water governance, allocation, access and use. The report emphasizes that inclusive water governance is crucial for ensuring sustainable, equitable and gender-just decision-making and water allocation for FSN. Moreover, the choice of allocation mechanisms and the way these are implemented can impact water for FSN. For example, market-based allocation mechanisms tend to divert water to the most economically efficient sector, not necessarily to those most important for FSN.

Fifth, the report also recognizes that both water sector reform processes and large scale land acquisitions can affect the customary access rights of poor and marginalized women and men, and thus impact their FSN. The role of trade in goods as a virtual water transfer is recognized as crucial to help address FSN needs of water scarce countries. Such approaches to FSN should not be at the cost of sustaining small scale food production systems either in food producing areas or in importing regions. Moreover, attention must be paid to ensure local ecosystem sustenance and better work environments in the food exporting economies.

The report also discusses competing governance systems—including informal systems such as policies, institutions, tools, etc. –and identifies the need to improve policy coherence at every level, from local to global, in order to prioritize water for FSN. Special attention must be given to the needs of vulnerable communities and women engaged in ensuring FSN. Given the complexity of the governance challenges (e.g., the impact of big investments on water governance systems, or that of trade on local water, food and nutrition security), the report calls for prioritizing water for FSN especially in the context of investments, and for policy coherence at national and local levels on this issue. It notes that even major global initiatives around water, land and food governance (for instance, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) and the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Alleviation (VG SSF)) have not adequately integrated water for FSN.

Finally, as a scientific report dealing with water for FSN, the report makes an original contribution by going well beyond technical issues to call attention to the inextricable relationship between the right to water and the right to food. In doing so, it draws on two comments from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: General Comment 15 (on right to water) and General Comment 12 (on right of food), both of which recognize the interdependence of the right to water and right to adequate food. Most peri-urban and rural communities in developing countries employ multiple water use practices. Yet, the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation concerns itself only with access to water for drinking water, food preparation and sanitation, and does not concern itself with other home-based activities (kitchen gardening, animal care, etc.) that help communities become food and water secure. This report suggests further exploration of the inter-linkages and consequences of these two rights by relevant Special Rapporteurs, so as to enable a human rights approach to water governance that ensures water for FSN for all.  

This report will inform the Committee on World Food Security debate on water for meets in October 12-15 in Rome. Reading this report in full will certainly be informative and hopefully enjoyable —it certainly has been a pleasure for me to work on this report with my colleagues in the Project Team. Our intention was to provide as comprehensive and informed an account of the situation as possible. We think we have done that, and hope it will serve its intended purpose: to provide evidence-based analysis and expert advice on this issue of critical importance: Water for Food and Nutrition Security.

       Sign up for our free newsletter!