Some dates get burned in our memories. One date that pops up for me each year is November 17, the day the U.S. Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) back in 1993. Now, 23 years later, NAFTA is as controversial as ever. After a long battle in which civil society groups from all three countries worked together to draw public attention to the potential negative impacts and, even then, to propose alternative approaches to trade, the pact was narrowly approved in a late night vote.
Just days before the vote, all signs pointed to NAFTA’s defeat. But then, the power of back room deals to build a bridge in one district, to fund a study center in another (as well as assurances of side deals on things like tomato imports or cross-border trucking) overtook the opposition to the trade pact. Public Citizen later published an accounting of those deals, and the fact that many of the promises were never kept. Even before we knew the true cost of NAFTA—both in the questionable use of public funds and in the well-documented economic and environmental devastation that was to come in all three countries—it was a bitter defeat.
Today is a Latin America wide day of action against the disastrous effects so-called Free Trade Agreements have had in undermining governments and the will of the people. Below is a public statement from the organizing groups, translated into English by IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn:
November 4: Latin America unites for democracy and against neoliberalism
The signing of Free Trade Agreements (FTA) has been the main vehicle for the globalization of the neoliberal-transnational model. Their drivers -the corporations and big media- promised wellbeing progress and development. But a quarter century later, we can say that FTAs have not met any of those promises.
To the contrary: in Latin America they have allowed the installation of extractive projects that threaten communities and the environment, have limited the action of States and have reduced the public budget, by putting corporate interests above the will of the people and life itself.
FTAs are about much more than trade among nations. Their pages include chapters on the liberalization of the services sector, protection of intellectual property and privileged conditions for foreign investors. The consequences in everyday life are categorical: rising prices of medicines, the privatization of public services such as drinking water and education, limits on access to the Internet, among others. The final effect is the deregulation of the private sector and reduction of the fiscal responsibility of businesses.
In short, free trade agreements seek to consolidate the power of transnational capital and in turn have captured the political authorities. They have even led to pressure on the environment that threatens the survival of the human species.
As international trade diplomats contemplate the latest move in their world—a formal complaint by the United States about China’s use of price supports for its farmers, lodged at the WTO last week—I am in Delhi to present IATP’s most recent findings of U.S. agricultural commodity dumping in export markets. Dumping is the sale of goods for less than their cost of production. Dumping distorts markets, and especially in food markets, destroys livelihoods and opportunities for development.
In anticipation of the full report, here are some of the initial numbers. They show the return of dumping in 2015 for several major commodities. The dumping margin is: for wheat (33 percent), soybeans (11 percent), maize (14 percent), rice (2 percent) and cotton (49 percent). In IATP’s analysis, this renewal of relatively high levels of dumping for some commodities does not signal a simple return to the world before the price shocks of 2007-08. While production has responded well to higher prices, the risk of over-production—as well as environmental constraints as climate change takes effect—make high levels of volatility likely to persist in the medium to long term.
Dumping is usually raised by one government, which complains about another. The complaint focuses on the use of public support for sectors whose products are then exported at prices lower than cost.
IATP measures its dumping calculation a little differently.
These calculations do capture the role of government payments, which are especially high for cotton and historically have been high for rice. But the numbers also show that something else is going on. The level of government support just is not sufficient to account for the dumping margins we have measured. If the government is not paying the difference, or not all of it, who is?
As the 43rd session of the UN Committee on Food Security meets in Rome this week they will finalize the negotiated draft recommendations on “connecting smallholders with markets”, developed with inputs from several hundreds of civil society organizations, including IATP. It has been a long process to get here.
At least since the food price crisis, if not from earlier, agricultural development initiatives have identified “connecting smallholders with markets” as an important strategy for ensuring the livelihood security of smallholder producers. However, most initiatives focus on integrating farmers and other smallholder producers into food value chains (vertically integrated companies that source, process and retail their products, such as Pepsi Co and Nestle), rather than exploring what kind of marketing channels would best fit the local needs of food producers, and consumers.
Corporate interest-driven trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are undermining the very principles of government by the people, and if approved, would continue to reverse hard-won progress for environmental integrity, social justice and economic development. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Tweaking current negotiated texts won’t fix the problem. But hitting the reset button on trade agreement objectives, trade negotiation processes, and actual trade rules themselves could bring about trade that stands a chance of enhancing the lives and livelihoods among trading partners. For all their public pronouncements against free trade agreements, both U.S. presidential candidates need to be part of the effort to reimagine trade with a vastly different set of objectives than those limited to corporate welfare.
The real and potential value of trade itself—to all trading parties, not just Americans—can be lost in the debate about the rules that govern it. The exchange of goods and services, over small and large distances, is thousands of years old, and the benefits innumerable. Opponents to the TPP or TTIP do not dismiss trade itself; instead, we seek to establish trade rules that are beneficial to the public interest rather than rules that reflect and perpetuate the prevailing imbalance of political and corporate interests. And because trade agreements have become political hot potatoes, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, we are in a moment when resetting trade objectives is possible.
Notwithstanding President Barack Obama’s best efforts to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement to Congress and the public on economic grounds, presidential and congressional candidates are shunning the TPP as a winning campaign issue. Even Senator Rob Portman, a former U.S. trade representative, doesn’t mention the TPP in his electoral “Jobs and Growth” agenda. The economic forecasting arguments for TPP are very weak—even according to the “heroic assumptions” of proponents, such as no change in the U.S. trade balance or net employment as a result of the TPP. So, what arguments do the TPP proponents have left?
When Congress returns to Washington after the November 8 elections, its members, particularly the defeated or retiring legislators, will be pressured to vote for the TPP in large part on national security grounds. What these grounds are, just like the draft TPP texts themselves, will remain a closely guarded secret.
Earlier this week, the European Parliament approved the Paris climate agreement, joining more than 60 other countries in signing the deal and paving the way for this historic global effort to enter into force. While the Paris deal is truly a major step forward, countries will have to overcome a series of hurdles created by trade agreements to reach their climate goals. An escalating fight at the World Trade Organization (WTO)—attacking renewable energy initiatives in two of the world’s biggest polluting countries (the U.S. and India)—shows why untangling trade agreements from climate goals should be the next big step.
As part of the Paris agreement, countries submitted voluntary climate plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). But the ability of countries to reach those climate goals will depend on rewriting trade rules at the WTO—and a series of regional and bi-lateral trade agreements—that consistently favor corporate rights over the climate.
On 21 September 2016 the United Nations (U.N.) newly convened High-level Panel on Water (HLPW), called for a fundamental shift in the way the world looks at water. Supported by the World Economic Forum and its water initiative, the HLPW was formed to help “build the political momentum” to deliver on the U.N. mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on “water and related targets” that the U.N. member governments agreed to in 2015.
The HLPW is co-convened by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the World Bank Group Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Co-chaired by the presidents of Mexico and Mauritius, the Panel is comprised of 11 sitting Heads of State and Government and one Special Adviser “to provide the leadership required to champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.
But will the HLPW provide this leadership? How do we ensure that the leadership is inclusive, transparent and accountable?
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is celebrating because October is National Farm to School Month! For 30 years, IATP has been at the center of the local food movement, presenting an alternative vision to factory farming and industrial food. Nowhere is this work seen more profoundly than in our Farm to Institution Program. Our work has connected farmers directly with schools, hospitals, and now early childhood education programs, to provide fresh, healthy, local foods to their meal programs. In October we’re celebrating National Farm to School Month with our partner organizations around this state!
With the start of harvest season, October is a perfect time to celebrate Minnesota’s agriculture with Farm to School activities happening in schools and early child care settings across the state. Did you know that in 2014, over 268 school districts in Minnesota were participating in Farm to School activities? You can read more about Farm to School in Minnesota from the state’s Farm to School Leadership Team’s 2016 report.
This piece was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus on September 27, 2016.
The consolidation of corporate power in agriculture has been in the news a lot lately, first with the proposed ChemChina-Syngenta and Dow-DuPont mergers, and now with Bayer’s proposal to purchase seed giant Monsanto. National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson testified in Congress last week that the proposed mergers would enable just three corporations to control 80 percent of the U.S. seed supply (and 70 percent of the global pesticide market). The result is that farmers have fewer and fewer choices about the kinds of seeds they want to plant. The concentration of processing and distribution also limits options and further squeezes farmers at a time when prices are tumbling around the globe.
This expansion of corporate control is also happening in three international treaties that establish the global rights of various stakeholders to seeds, germplasm, and plant varieties. Each of these treaties strikes a certain balance among those interests. And recently, like the agribusiness mergers, the balance has been tilting away from the interests of smaller-scale farmers and diversified agriculture. Unsurprisingly, corporations interested in accessing seeds and other genetic resources are pushing hard on all fronts.