Posted April 15, 2016 by Ben Lilliston
It’s campaign season—a time when the pervasive influence of money in our political system seems to slap us in the face with each new political ad. This weekend, tens of thousands of people and more than 200 organizations will rally in Washington to demand Congressional action to address the corrupting role of big money in our political system that has shifted into overdrive following the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling and to protect voting rights under attack in states around the country. This effort for political reform, called Democracy Awakening, is essential if we hope to transform our farm and food system to one that is fair for farmers, protects the environment and climate and produces enough healthy food for all.
The challenges that we face in our food system are too big, too complex and there is too much at stake, to allow a handful of largely multinational corporations such disproportionate political influence. In food and agriculture policy, the power of corporate money in our political system is literally everywhere. In the last Farm Bill, the crop insurance industry flexed its muscles through more than $57 million in lobbying firepower to shift government payments to benefit the industry. From buying state ballot initiative wins on GMO labeling and pro-factory farm “Right-to-Farm” rules, to rolling back financial reform that wreaked havoc in agriculture markets, to blocking the fight to increase the minimum and tipped-minimum wage—the fingerprints of corporate money and influence seem to be omnipresent.
One of the clearest examples of big money influence is the prize at the top of the multinational corporate and financial industry agenda—new free trade deals. To the surprise of many in the political establishment, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is unpopular among primary voters and has drawn the ire of Presidential candidates in both parties. The trade deal involving 12 Pacific Rim countries was negotiated largely in secret, shaped by advisory committees dominated by corporate interests.
To lay the groundwork for the TPP, Congress needed to pass Fast Track trade authority last year. Fast Track gave President Obama the right to conclude TPP negotiations in secret and present a final version of the deal to Congress for a simple up or down vote. The corporate interests that invested heavily in the passage of Fast Track are a virtual who’s who of inside-the-beltway power: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, US Business and Industry Council, American Natural Gas Alliance, Bayer, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline, Koch Industries, Pfizer, Dow Chemical, JP Morgan and Kraft Foods, among others. At the end of the day, according to Maplight, corporate interests supporting Fast Track contributed more than nine times as much money to House members ($197 million), compared to interests opposing Fast Track ($23 million). That investment paid off with the passage of Fast Track in June 2015.
Now the focus of corporate lobbying has now shifted toward the TPP, where corporate lobbying, and specifically lobbying from agribusiness, has jumped. The rejection of the TPP by leading Presidential candidates has slowed momentum for the TPP, but there is talk of Congress considering the controversial trade deal in the lame duck session (after the election and before the next President and Congress take office).
The Democracy Awakens rally and growing movement to reform our political system is critical for determining the future of our farm and food system. Rally supporters, including IATP, are calling for Congress to pass five bills that will take a big step forward toward reasserting the power of citizens in our political process. Those bills are:
The Presidential campaigns for both parties has produced some unexpected results—much of which is linked to growing discontent over how our government works and who it represents. A recent New York Times poll supported what many others have found—that there is strong support for addressing excess money in our political system. It’s time for Congress and the President to pay attention.
Posted April 7, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan
“Dairy in Crisis: TPP Dumping on Dairy Farmers,” by IATP intern Erik Katovich, is a sober recitation of facts that raise important questions about the objectives of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.
First, as Katovich reports, global dairy prices continue to drop due to worldwide oversupply of raw milk, and U.S. dairy processors are dumping millions of gallons of raw milk into sewers. The dumped milk contradicts the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) objectives to reduce food waste and conserve the natural resources used to grow dairy cattle feed. During the negotiations, the USDA projected a 20 percent increase in U.S. dairy imports by 2025 due to TPP rules. Given the vast U.S. oversupply of raw milk, why did the USTR lower the tariff rates on dairy products, including on milk protein concentrate (MPC), a powder that contains 30 to 40 percent of the protein of raw milk and casein, a starch used in processed cheese? In other words, why did the USTR favor MPC and casein importers to the detriment of U.S. dairy farmers?
Katovich quotes Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator for the USTR: “US agriculture, as a whole, has a lot to gain from this agreement.” (Cited in Jacqui Fatka, “Ag Support for TPP Remains Strong,” Feedstuffs, January, 2016. Subscription required) Clearly this “whole” does not include the U.S. dairy farmers whose milk is dumped so that dairy processors, such as Kraft-Heinz and Dean Foods, can import much cheaper MPC and casein from the world’s largest raw dairy materials exporter, New Zealand’s Fonterra. These companies and other food processors can export processed cheese and other products containing dairy-like elements that do not meet the Food and Drug Administration’s identity standard for cheese but can be sold as a processed good. Indeed, there is no international standard for processed cheese that would facilitate trade.
Food Chemical News (subscription required) reports that the Milk and Milk Products Committee of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, whose standards are presumed to be authoritative by the World Trade Organization, cannot agree on a standard for processed cheese. One proposed draft standard for processed cheese would facilitate trade if the product contained a minimum 51 percent of cheese content. (Declan Conroy, “Codex processed cheese standard remains elusive,” March 28, 2015.) The U.S. Codex Office (email@example.com) will continue to take comments on this draft standard until May 1.
The TPP dairy tariff reductions, flexible labeling rules and tariff classifications for MPC and casein, lauded by the U.S. Dairy Export [and Import] Council, are key elements of a trade policy strategy that continues to reduce the number of U.S. dairy farms and the benefits those farms provide to the families and counties in which they are located. On March 8, the Board of the National Milk Producers Association announced its resolution to support the TPP. The Board assumed that “the net effect of all TPP market access concessions is expected to be neutral to slightly positive,” but that the addition of other Asian countries joining the TPP later would make the net effect of import and export tariff concessions a positive for U.S. NMPA members.
The economic viability of the U.S. dairy trade model does not depend on a well-functioning, competitive and transparent market that pays farmers cost of production plus prices. Rather, as a March report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service points out, the increasing concentration of U.S. raw milk production in fewer and fewer farm operations requires taxpayer subsidies, most recently in the form of the 2014 Farm Bill’s Dairy Margin Protection Program (Dairy MPP), to offset the lower than cost of production prices received by farmers. (The ERS report does not evaluate the natural resource cost nor the environmental sustainability of the dairy industry in its econometric modeling).
Furthermore, the Farm Bill subsidizes the cost of feed grains consumed in the dairy Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). As reported by Katovich, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the corn and soybean subsidies alone at $3.37 billion for Fiscal Year 2017.
Nevertheless, CoBank, which finances both CAFOs and family farm scale operations, opined in its March outlook report, “Our assessment of current market conditions is that dairy product prices still have a ways to go before they hit bottom” (p.12). CoBank doesn’t estimate how far prices (an averaging of futures contract prices, such as those of cheese futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) will fall nor explain why they might rebound. A plausible explanation for a modest rebound from the bottom is that a continuation of the dairy price collapse will force CAFOs, even subsidized by the Farm Bill, to liquidate their herds.
This crude and brutal form of supply management contrasts with the planned programs of Canadian dairy supply management that the USTR attacked throughout the TPP negotiations. Under the TPP, Canadian dairy farmers are projected to lose about four percent of their domestic market to cheaper imports, including those at below cost of production prices such as New Zealand’s lower nutrient Ultra High Temperature milk, which has a shelf life of up to a year. Exporting at below the cost of production, colloquially termed “dumping,” has been prohibited by the WTO in all industries but agriculture. Against the permanent pressure of lowered tariffs and no TPP discipline against dumping agricultural exports, the Canadian government plans to offer its dairy farmers compensatory subsidies in an amount and formula subject to parliamentary negotiations. TPP proponents exulted at the low tariff and the consequent below cost of production import erosion of Canada’s supply management programs.
An extraordinary legislative procedure, known as “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), requires the U.S. Congress to reduce its authority to an up or down vote on the TPP and other trade and investment agreements. The TPA also requires the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) to submit a study to Congress by May 18th before the Congress can vote on the TPP, at least until after the November U.S. elections, given the extent of popular opposition to the agreement.
IATP submitted comments to the USITC, urging its staff to analyze the impact of U.S. imports under the TPP tariff cuts. We further asked USITC to estimate the costs to consumer and environmental health that would result from the TPP’s weak standards on risk assessment of imported food and agricultural inputs, such as pesticide and veterinary drug residues in foods. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identified foreign foods as the source for 18 out of a total 120 foodborne illness outbreaks. Given the very low percentage of foodborne illness that is reported, as estimated by the CDC, and the estimated $93.2 billion annual cost of U.S. foodborne-illness-related costs, weakening food inspection and testing intensity under the TPP is not only inhumane—it’s bad business.
For those agribusiness exporters and importers that have already announced their support for the TPP, anything less than full-throated support for the TPP in the USITC report will be dismissed, if not simply ignored. But for those who are planning to vote in the fall elections and for whom the results of U.S. trade policy play a role in their vote, the USITC report, if it includes the true cost of this risky market opening, could provide important evidence of the need for a new approach to dairy markets and to agricultural trade policy more generally.
Posted March 31, 2016 by Tara Ritter
In this season of political speeches and debates, a harmful myth continues to surface: taking action on climate change will ravage the economy. Recently, this myth has been applied to the Clean Power Plan, the first regulation in the U.S. to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants.
In February 2016, the Supreme Court halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan until a federal appeals court rules on its legality in June 2016. Although implementation of the plan has been stayed, officials in the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency remain confident that they have strong legal footing and that the Clean Power Plan will resume as planned once it has made its way through the courts.
A new IATP report, titled “The Clean Power Plan: Opportunities for an Equitable Energy Transition in Rural America,” outlines how the Clean Power Plan can benefit all communities, especially the rural communities that produce most of the nation’s energy. The report makes the case that the artificial divide between the environment and the economy obscures the many opportunities for rural America that come along with clean energy development.
The Clean Power Plan is designed to function at the state level. Each state has been assigned a unique emissions reduction goal and has flexibility in deciding how to meet that goal, whether it be through energy efficiency measures, an increase in renewable energy or a switch from coal to natural gas. The flexibility afforded to states in creating their State Implementation Plans will result in very different plans from state to state, each with its own repercussions for rural communities in terms of jobs, energy prices and more.
According to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, the Clean Power Plan will create 120,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2020 from energy efficiency projects and construction of new generating capacity. In the same year, about 24,000 jobs will be lost from a reduction in coal-fired electricity generation. This equates to a net gain of 96,000 jobs. However, a net increase in jobs does not mean that every displaced worker will be neatly provided with a new job. This means that states must engineer their State Implementation Plans and other policies to include financial support and job retraining for the communities most impacted by the transition.
In addition to job creation, the Clean Power Plan is an important tool to keep energy affordable. If states include energy efficiency as a substantial portion of their plans, the EPA estimates that household electricity bills will decrease by an average of $8 per month by 2030. Even if energy prices per kilowatt hour rise slightly at first, a decreased demand for energy as a result of energy efficiency improvements results in net savings for the consumer. When paired with the swiftly falling costs of renewable energy, household energy bills will remain stable or even decrease as time goes on. The issue of energy costs is particularly important to rural communities who, on average, have higher poverty rates.
Finally, the Clean Power Plan is an opportunity to move away from the current energy drivers that damage the rural natural resource base. Both coal and natural gas are extractive industries, often controlled by outside investors, that hold little long-term benefit for rural communities. Not only do extractive industries impact the landscape and natural resource base, but they also drive a boom-and-bust cycle that leaves rural communities with little once the extraction is complete. A study by Headwaters Economics found that though fossil fuel extraction creates enormous wealth, most of that wealth leaves the region where the extraction occurs. The Clean Power Plan aims to establish a cleaner, renewable energy system that will not only protect natural resources, but also avoid the boom-and-bust cycle that has historically hurt rural communities.
Climate change will continue to impact rural people, natural resources and economies as long as it continues to worsen. The Clean Power Plan takes a step towards slowing climate change, but it can also create jobs and affordable energy supplies. As the Clean Power Plan makes its way through the courts, states should continue moving forward with clean energy initiatives, including developing State Implementation Plans, in order to create an energy future that is fair and equitable for all communities.
Posted March 29, 2016 by Pete Huff
Every day of the school year, more than 80,000 meals are served in the cafeterias of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public School Districts—that’s over 1.3 million meals a year. While these school districts are two of the largest in Minnesota, they share the daily rhythm of providing meals and snacks with the other school districts in the state—over 540 districts in total, which spent close to $450 million in the 2014-15 school year on food service.
These school meals, as well as those served by other public and private institutions—such as hospitals, universities and colleges, child care centers, government offices, prisons and beyond—are critical sources of nutrition for the 5.45 million Minnesota residents who rely on their services, either directly or indirectly. Beyond nutrition, the scale and consistency of institutional meals means that food purchasing—also called food procurement—by Minnesota institutions has a significant impact on the economy and environment of the state and the Upper Midwest region as a whole.
The focus on how institutions—particularly public institutions—can use their food procurement dollars to leverage positive change from farm to fork has grown exponentially in the past two decades. With practices such as farm-to-school increasingly well established and other efforts such as farm-to-hospital rapidly gaining momentum throughout the United States, institutions are influencing how food is produced, priced and distributed at the national, regional and local levels. With this increasingly pivotal role, there is a need and an opportunity to work within and across institutions, as well as within the communities they support, to ensure that what ends up on the cafeteria tray, so to speak, supports a better, more equitable world from the soil to the salad bar.
The Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) is an important tool to help institutions down this path. Created by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) in 2012, the GFPP helps major public institutions measure and shift their food procurement to prioritize food that is healthy, sustainable, fair and affordable. This is done through a comprehensive and progressive framework for verifying, scoring and publically recognizing responsible and holistic practices centered on five core values. The unique aspect of the GFPP’s structure is that rather than prioritizing one value at the expense of others (e.g., increasing purchases of local produce from farms and/or food businesses with unfair labor practices), it strives to create a holistic approach to improving the food system by balancing all five of the following values:
To accomplish this, the framework uses a tiered, points-based scoring system that, once adopted by an institution, allows for the creation of a tailored action plan for that particular institution’s food procurement needs. This action plan is rooted in the institution meeting a minimum baseline commitment within each value category and improving their performance in each over a set period. The end result of the point-system is a one to five star rating for the participating institution. This recognition provides the public and other institutions with an understanding of how the institution is leveraging their dollars—often public dollars—to create public benefit. Further, this recognition, and the GFPP as a whole, creates an opportunity for the public and decision-makers to work with institutions to identify, address and—hopefully—reach shared goals.
After its creation by the LAFPC in 2012, the GFPP was adopted by the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and several other institutions. Implementation efforts were evaluated after one year, with the biggest factor being that the school system served over 716,000 meals per day! Along with greater understanding and transparency about the food procurement of seven participating institutions, the GFPP effort in Los Angles also reported key outcomes in each of the GFPP value categories: it created $12 million in new local produce purchases, saved 19.6 million gallons of water per week via Meatless Mondays, created 150 new well-paying jobs in the supply chain; secured a commitment to source 100 percent antibiotic free chicken by December 2016, and inspired healthier food products such as low-sodium bread that is free of high fructose corn syrup and made with sustainably produced local wheat.
The adoption of the GFPP is currently being explored in multiple cities, including Chicago, Oakland and New York City. The work of developing, adopting and upholding the GFPP—regardless of the city—is supported by the Center for Good Food Purchasing (CGFP). This organization was formed as an offshoot of the LAFPC efforts with the GFPP and provides planning, implementation and evaluation support for institutions using the framework.
As these cities learn how to adopt the program to meet the unique needs of their communities and environment, those in Los Angeles continue to lead the way in pioneering the implementation of the GFPP. Most recently, the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), organized a coalition of organizations that included the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Food and Water Watch, and other environmental, animal rights, and public health groups to demand that the GFPP standards be upheld by LAUSD in its chicken procurement contracts. Specifically, the coalition demanded transparency in the procurement process when LAUSD was considering bids from Tyson Foods, a major poultry producer with a long record of labor violations, and was successful in stopping the rubber-stamping of the contract between the district and the company.
In February and March 2016, a group of Twin Cities stakeholders came together in two preliminary meetings to discuss how the GFPP framework could be brought to Minnesota. These stakeholders—representing a diverse range of perspectives from each of the five GFPP value categories—have begun the process of building the relationships, shared understanding and agreements on the process that will be necessary for determining if the GFPP is a useful tool for Minnesotans.
To learn more about how you can get involved in the conversation about the Good Food Purchasing Program in the Twin Cities, and help build a more resilient and equitable food system for all, please contact Christina Spach.
Posted March 23, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
While civil society groups around the world raise a variety of concerns about the substance of free trade agreements, for the most part their criticisms begin with the lack of transparency. Instead of a robust public debate on the merits of the issues under negotiation, civil society groups are forced to rely on bits of leaked text or the evidence of past trade agreements to guess at what might be under negotiation. In the U.S., members of Trade Advisory Committees (which are heavily dominated by corporate advisors) have greater access, but are sworn to secrecy. In the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) process, EU and U.S. legislators are allowed to make appointments to view consolidated negotiating text, but they must do so in a closed room, without access to experts to help them discern what the reams of bracketed text could mean for the issues they care about.
The EU has taken some important steps towards greater transparency in the TTIP negotiations with the publication of negotiating objectives and some textual proposals. That openness has not been matched by the U.S. Information on the U.S. Trade Representative’s website describes general negotiating objectives, and meetings with U.S. trade officials rarely provide more than clues about the issues being debated in TTIP.
What we can see very clearly, however, are the results of the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the U.S. and eleven Pacific Rim countries. More than 5,000 pages encompassing 30 chapters of text and scores of annexes and bilateral side letters have been posted online. The USTR has indicated that it intends to replicate many of these provisions in other trade negotiations, including TTIP. Of course, the TPP provisions are the compromise positions after years of negotiations, so it’s likely that the USTR would seek even stronger positions in other trade deals. Still, the TPP provides clues about what the U.S. is likely pushing for behind the closed doors of the TTIP negotiations.
Our new paper, Following Breadcrumbs: TPP Text Provides Clues to U.S. Positions in TTIP, focuses on TPP provisions that could affect food and farm systems in Europe if they were adopted in TTIP:
We hope this paper will help identify clues to some of the positions the U.S. is likely advancing in TTIP. Those who have access to the consolidated TTIP proposals should look to see if the TPP language is replicated in the TTIP. Those who do not have that access could assume that these provisions indicate the U.S. positions in TTIP.
While many food and farm standards in the EU are relatively higher than those in the U.S., there are strong pressures by agribusiness and other corporate interests on both sides of the Atlantic to push these and other standards to their lowest common denominator. Advocates for better food system rules—farmers and eaters, legislators and regulators—should continue to collaborate across borders and across sectors to counter that push and to insist that trade agreements support better rules that are fair, equitable and sustainable. Knowing—and exposing—the devils in the details of those trade deals is an important first step.
Posted March 22, 2016 by Shiney Varghese
As there are more and more calls that public water authorities rebuild their water infrastructure and improve the quality of water supply and sanitation services, the first module of a new Water Justice Toolkit has just been released to celebrate this World Water Day: March 22, 2016. This toolkit, “Public Water for All,” will be of use to all those interested in fighting public-private partnerships and promoting effective and sustainable provision of drinking water supply and sanitation services. It has three sections. As Meera Karunananthan (who coordinated the project) notes while introducing it, the module reflects the collective experiences of organizations and grassroots groups from around the world that are loosely connected through the global water justice movement.
The first section is a guide to re-municipalization and draws on the extensive research on the successful efforts by communities to reverse privatization. Researchers have documented that between March 2000 and March 2015, there have been 235 cases of water re-municipalization in 37 countries, affecting more than 100 million people.
Privatization and public-private partnerships (PPPs) are often introduced (at the advice of the proponents of privatization) by local governments hoping to reduce public debt, increase service efficiency and introduce new technologies and new investment for infrastructure. As I wrote a while ago, in most such cases through the late 1990s and 2000s, the private sector did not make the kind of investments that policymakers had hoped for. And not only that, “price hikes and deterioration in the quality of services (associated with a cutback in workforces amongst others) had become a norm where privatization had been introduced. Water cutoffs (sometimes in response to non-payment of bills) gave rise to a questioning of privatization.” Disenchanted communities, public operators and local authorities figured that partnerships with other public operators could generate economies of scale, and that such public-public partnerships (PuPs) would strengthen operators’ capacities to solve problems. Public water operators began joining forces within countries and across borders to facilitate the re-municipalization process.
As the re-municipalization guide points out, the growing list of re-municipalized utilities from around the world demonstrates that this model is successful. It concludes by providing a check list for citizens and policy makers to consider, as they prepare to re-municipalize water services.
The second section is a collection of case studies on public-community partnerships in Latin America (carried out under the auspices of the The Platform for Public and Community Partnerships of the Americas, or PAPC), a form of public-public partnerships (PuPs). As one of the objectives of PuPs is improving participation; they have the potential to “easily and flexibly involve civil society actors as well, including trade unions, community groups and citizens.” However, there are some distinct characteristics that are specific to public-community partnerships, such as the recognition that public-community partnership is a not-for-profit social agreement; that no form of commodification, commercialization or privatization of water (including outsourcing or sub-contracting to private entities) is acceptable; and the shared belief amongst all parties that water is a fundamental human right and that water and sanitation should be managed as being part of the commons. These have not only provided communities with a powerful alternative to privatization but have also supported initiatives to build environmental sustainability concerns into water services provision.
While states have an obligation to ensure that the human rights to water and sanitation are guaranteed to all, state-run systems do not always meet the needs of communities. The Latin American cases discussed here show that public-community partnerships strengthen the local and national capacity of the communities, social movements and workers. They do so by promoting processes of local and international cooperation based on solidarity and horizontal decision making amongst all those (community organizations, public utilities, cooperatives, unions) engaged in the provision of basic water and/or sanitation services. For PAPC, the term “public” signifies a “commons-based management system, which treats water as belonging to no one, the sustainable management of water resources as the responsibility of all.” With this aspirational definition of “public,” decision making models that are participatory, transparent and in the interest of all are favored and within such a commons-based system, water services are provided on a not-for-profit basis. This alternative vision for improving the water sector and the case studies offered by PAPC share some basic characteristics, such as the recognition that water is a fundamental human right and it should be managed as being part of the commons.
The third section is background on public financing. It is intended to counter the myths propagated by the proponents of private financing, which suggest that privatization is the most effective way both to address the crisis in public water financing and to ensure universal access to drinking water and sanitation.
Despite growing evidence that the privatization of water and sanitation services has failed communities, proponents of the model often cite the lack of public funding as a reason to continue to bring in private investors. Evidence based arguments suggest that this is far from the reality, especially in the case of water services sector, and suggest that the discrepancy is because the “framework used by donors and international institutions [is] sharply different from the reality of water and sanitation services in developing countries” where public finance accounts for most of the new investments in water supply and sanitation sector.
This section on public financing not only points out that the private investors often must be lured with policies that protect their profits, particularly in markets that are deemed risky, but also points to other possible pitfalls that a water utility entering into an international investments agreement needs to be aware of, such as any relevant investment treaties that would make this a binding contract. Most importantly, it builds on the argument that it is more viable for a utility or a country to opt for public financing. It further offers a number of ways in which public financing can be mobilized.
While recognizing that the public sector isn’t always perfect—there are many poorly performing public utilities around the world—this section points out that by eliminating the profit motive, public financing offers the potential for local governments to reinvest in the system to better serve the needs of communities and the environment. However, community engagement and vibrant democracy is essential for participatory and accountable systems that serve the needs of communities. Only these will ensure that mechanisms are set up to effectively involve water users in decision-making, as positive experiences from Paris, France and negative experience from Flint, USA show.
Posted March 21, 2016 by Ben Lilliston
The farm economy is beyond struggling. Farm income was 50 percent lower in 2015 than in 2013 and is expected to drop further in 2016, reports the USDA. Prices for commodity crops, livestock and poultry are tumbling. Farmland prices are declining. Farm debt is rising. Approximately 45 percent of crop farms are in poor financial condition. Under these dire conditions, a new proposed trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), is being pitched as a savior for the farm economy. But given the experience of past trade deals, this will be a tough sell.
Supporters of the 12-nation TPP have had a hard time explaining its benefits from the beginning—mostly because even the rosiest scenarios conclude that the economic gains are tiny. None of the economic projections completed thus far are willing to claim the TPP will increase jobs. The often-cited Peterson Institute projection for the TPP found very small economic gains for the U.S. (only .5 percent after 15 years), and some 500,000 job losses in the first 10 years. A World Bank analysis found that TPP countries would, on average, see only a 1.1 percent gain in their economy annually by 2030. The U.S. would have the smallest gain, at just .4 percent by 2030—with Vietnam (10 percent), Malaysia (8 percent) and Japan (2.7 percent) as the biggest winners.
A TPP analysis by Tufts University, using updated methodology, found that the deal would actually result in both a net loss of jobs and increased income inequality. The Tufts analysis criticizes the older Peterson and World Bank methodology for assuming full employment (any jobs lost will be picked up elsewhere), as well as not accounting for declining wages, as seen in previous trade agreements.
In the case of agriculture, it’s been a time-honored tradition to grossly overstate the benefits of proposed free trade deals for farmers and the TPP is no different. Last month, the Farm Bureau released a new study claiming that the TPP would boost net farm income by $4.4 billion. The Farm Bureau sent 500 members to Capitol Hill to tout the study and lobby on behalf of the TPP—USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has since cited those projections. But the study has some serious problems, including that it hasn’t publicly posted where the numbers come from. The Coalition for a Prosperous America raised 10 reliability concerns about the Farm Bureau study, including that it lists no author and doesn’t publicly and fully disclose its methods and data. It’s hard to tell whether or how it accounts for increased imports under the TPP—an essential component of assessing any trade deal.
While the projections from the Farm Bureau study remain cryptic, the track record from past trade agreements is unfortunately all too clear. In a series of recent columns, University of Tennessee agriculture economists Dr. Daryll Ray and Harwood Schaffer documented the record of past U.S. free trade agreements, including NAFTA and CAFTA. They found a negative cumulative balance of agriculture trade from 1997-2014 for the U.S. with Canada (-$30 billion) and Mexico (-$9.6 billion) under NAFTA, as well as negative balances with CAFTA countries. Ray and Schaffer write, “Given the history of trade deals and the structure of US agriculture, we would be very cautious in making too many promises about the trade-balance benefits of any given trade agreement for the whole of U.S. agriculture.”
When Ray and Schaffer mention the structure of U.S. agriculture, they are referring to the tight control of the sector held by a small handful of mostly global corporations. In the U.S., the largest beef company (JBS) and the biggest pork producer (Smithfield-Shuanghui) are not U.S. corporations but are based in Brazil and China respectively. There is little doubt that the global agribusiness companies pushing so hard for TPP, like Cargill, Tyson’s, ADM, Monsanto and others will gain from the agreement. They operate in most of the TPP countries and will not only gain from tariff reductions, but also the TPP’s focus on harmonizing regulations—from food safety, to intellectual property to environmental protection.
Not all farm organizations are buying the TPP sales job. The National Farmers Union, the National Family Farm Coalition and a growing number of family farms and organizations around the country oppose the deal. The failure of past trade deals to achieve gains for farmers raises questions about whether that was ever the intention. As economist Dani Rodrik writes, “today’s world economy is the product of explicit decisions that governments have made in the past." This is most certainly true for the struggling U.S. farm economy today.
Posted March 15, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Last November the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a trade and investment agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries of the Pacific Rim was published. Finally, there is a proxy for the U.S. position in the TTIP negotiations on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), i.e. the food safety and animal and plant health rules and enforcement practices that must protect consumers. Since the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) prohibits release of its draft TTIP negotiating positions to the public, we are forced to use the TPP SPS chapter as a next best alternative for constructing a ‘dialogue’ between the negotiating proposals of the European Commission and the SPS chapter that the USTR is likely to propose for the TTIP. Our initial analysis of the texts and the institutional capacity of governments to enforce the texts to protect consumers leads to several recommendations, including the following:
There is much more to say about the evolving TTIP SPS chapter, but TACD believes that this resolution is a well-informed basis for dialogue with governments.
TACD will present its policy position on the proposed SPS chapter at the European Commission’s TTIP Stakeholder Presentation Event on Wednesday, 24 February 2016 as of 12.20 pm.
This was originally posted on February 19, 2016 on the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue website.
Posted March 15, 2016 by Tara Ritter
Participants in the Winona Climate Dialogue, held from March 3-5 2016 on the Winona State University campus, identified opportunities for the region to respond to a changing climate. Opportunities included local development of clean energy, creating balanced watersheds, adopting agricultural best management practices, and striving for responsible land use practices.
The Winona Climate Dialogue was the third in a series of Rural Climate Dialogues organized throughout Minnesota by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Jefferson Center. The Rural Climate Dialogue model is a unique approach to engaging rural communities on climate change at the local level. Each Dialogue brings together a microcosm of a community to study local climate impacts in-depth for three days and generate a shared community response. The participants are chosen from a pool of individuals who respond to a mailing sent to 5,000 households in the county or to invitations in the local newspaper or on social media.
The Winona Climate Dialogue consisted of 18 individuals from across Winona County, an area of southeastern Minnesota on the Mississippi River marked by gorgeous bluffs and landscapes. Some of the participants had lived in Winona for their entire lives, and some had chosen to move to the area later in life. What united all the participants was a love of the area’s natural beauty, landscape and outdoor opportunities. In the opening introductions, one of the participants professed, “We live in God’s country!”
The Dialogue spanned three days and was filled with presentations, deliberation and priority setting. The first presentation was from Mark Seeley, Minnesota’s Extension Climatologist, who provided an overview of southeast Minnesota’s weather history and trends. This presentation provided a common understanding of how climate change is impacting the local area and was the foundation for the rest of the Dialogue. As one participant noted, “I’ve known there have been changes in the weather here, but not to this magnitude.”
Participants then heard presentations from local experts on energy, water, insurance, public health and agriculture. After each presentation, participants had the opportunity to ask questions and identify ways the community could address climate change’s impacts on that subject. At the end of the Dialogue, a participant said, “I learned that we all agreed a lot on what to do, even though we come from a wide variety of viewpoints and backgrounds.”
The presentation topics were chosen based on conversations in the community in the months leading up to the Dialogue. City officials, teachers, business owners and other community members identified what topics best defined Winona County’s economic, social and environmental well-being and then local experts were identified to speak on those subjects.
On the third day of the Dialogue, participants returned to create their “Statement for our Neighbors”—a summary of top concerns, opportunities and actions to put forward for the rest of the community to see. People debated, voiced interests and concerns, and voted on what would make it into the statement. The statement will serve as a report to the rest of the community, including city and county officials, about what Winona County residents think should happen in the community to address extreme weather and climate change impacts locally.
The Dialogue closed with comments from each participant reflecting on their experiences over the past three days. One participant noted, “From a personal standpoint, I feel like I grew. My views have changed. I was wrong—I was dead wrong.” Another said, “It was so nice to see that people do care, people do want to change. It was nice to see that, to know that you can make a difference and there are opportunities.”
Later in 2016, the Jefferson Center and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will convene a statewide meeting bringing together participants from all three Rural Climate Dialogues. The goal of this meeting is to share lessons learned among the three communities and communicate rural perspectives—which often aren’t apparent in climate policy—to Minnesota policymakers. As one Winona Climate Dialogue participant said, “One of the things we need to do is not only talk to our neighbors, but also some of our legislators.”
Posted March 11, 2016 by Shiney Varghese
Early in the morning on March 3, 2016, the environmental justice community was jolted by news of the assassination of Berta Cáceres, the Honduran feminist activist. She was nearly 45 and was shot dead the previous night in her home, in La Esperanza. It seems almost certain that she was killed because of her sustained opposition to illegal logging, agricultural plantations and the construction of dams that caused environmental destruction and displacement of communities. The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), cofounded by Berta in the early 1990s, has been in the forefront of the fight to stop the construction of the Agua Zarca cascade of four giant dams in the Gualcarque river basin—the spiritual, economic and cultural habitat of the Lenca People.
In 2015 she was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her courage and leadership. At the time she said, “There is a racist system in place that sustains and reproduces itself. The political, economic and social situation in Honduras is getting worse and there is an imposition of a project of domination, of violent oppression, of militarization, of violation of human rights, of transnationalisation, of the turning over of the riches and sovereignty of the land to corporate capital, for it to privatize energy, the rivers, the land; for mining exploitation; for the creation of development zones.”
All around the world we see the same: corporate interests appropriating resources at the cost of the environment and people, particularly indigenous communities, all with the overt or covert support of the state. Here is Berta's call to action: “We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one, and we have to take action.”
Berta and her colleagues were constantly made aware that their lives were in danger. Yet the struggle against the hydro-electric project—intended to help meet the energy needs of the extractive industries—continued.
Let us heed Berta's call to action and ensure that her death is not in vain.
The sole witness of this assassination, Gustavo Castro Soto, a Mexican citizen and activist, is still being detained in Honduras despite the Mexican Embassy trying to bring him home to Mexico. Like Berta, Gustavo is a “key leader to popular struggles against corporate extraction, government malfeasance, and U.S. intervention in Mesoamerica.” He was targeted along with Berta but survived, despite getting shot twice. As the key witness to Berta Cáceres’ assassination, Gustavo's life is in grave danger, especially while he remains detained in Honduras. We join the Lenca people and the environmental justice community in their: