Later this month, Congress will consider whether or not to hand Fast Track authority over to the President, limiting themselves to a simple up or down vote on two extraordinarily complex trade agreements now being negotiated in secret and without Congressional oversight.
Trade agreements affect a huge range of laws and programs that govern how our economies work, how we grow and sell food, and who benefits—or loses. These trade agreements could set new rules that would:
The new free trade agreements are the biggest ever—the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Pacific nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe. Once in place, free trade agreements often supersede state, local and even federal laws.
Let’s face it, these trade deals are negotiated on behalf of multinational corporations—not farmers, workers or consumers. Fundamentally, these trade agreements are about making it easier for corporations to shift production to where it’s cheapest, while undermining local economies and food systems. They could even grant corporations new rights to sue governments directly if their future profits are threatened. No wonder the negotiations are in secret!
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Repost from ARC2020
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks have revealed a contentious debate over local food names, so-called Geographical Indications (GIs). Far from a technical issue, the differing approaches to protections for local food names underscore very different traditions. Karen Hansen-Kuhn and Hannes Lorenzen unpack the issues in this long read.
Historically, European farmers have sought to protect names and processes for certain food products associated with a specific local food culture. GIs were originally a tool used by disadvantaged regions to protect their specific products and receive a premium price for unique, and sometimes difficult natural conditions of production, especially in mountain areas. It has been seen as a tool to keep a higher added value in a specific region and to create closer connections with consumers through clear rules for quality production.
To many Americans, this might sound like an obscure, new issue or appear as a trick of European negotiators to impose barriers in trade. Reports on EU demands to protect what most Americans would consider common food names such as “feta” have elicited surprised and rather derisive comments among Members of Congress and the media. On the other hand, some U.S. local producers of cheeses and specialty goods who are creating their own new traditions, are supportive of this approach and seek to enhance inadequate trademark protections in the U.S.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to renew Trade Promotion Authority, often called “Fast Track,” to complete two controversial international trade deals currently under negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). In attempts to portray this urgency, the President warned of China’s rising power in the realm of trade and global economics, and China is “trying to write the rules,” which would “disadvantage” American workers and businesses. Obama said, “We should write those rules. We should level the playing field.” But who actually writes the rules of these trade deals?
In mid-January, the Trade Benefits America Coalition submitted a letter to Congress leadership, urging the passage of Trade Promotion Authority. The undersigned Coalition members include over 200 of the largest corporations and trade associations in the country, a sample of which include Walmart, Coca Cola, the notorious corporate-led, state-focused ALEC, and four of the “Big 6” pesticide and GMO corporations: BASF, Bayer, Dupont, and Dow Chemical Company. Not one of the Coalition members appear to represent workers, the environment, or public health - a glaring indication of who will benefit from Fast Track and the pending trade deals.
Recommended changes to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a farm program designed to encourage conservation, may instead promote the expansion of factory farms that harm the climate. EQIP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS), and is one of the largest federal conservation programs. It is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to address soil, water, air, and other natural resource concerns. Since its inception in 1997, EQIP has invested in nearly 600,000 contracts for a total of about $11 billion on 232 million acres.
As climate change makes farming more risky with erratic temperatures, increased drought and flood, and other extreme weather events, conservation programs can provide an opportunity for producers to undertake practices that increase their farm’s resilience to climate impacts without taking a large economic hit. The 2014 Farm Bill authorized several changes to the program intended to simplify regulation, but instead the proposed changes would provide distinct advantages for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Animal waste storage and treatment facilities have become the second largest user of EQIP funds, behind only irrigation equipment. Funding projects that benefit large-scale CAFOs not only wreaks havoc on the climate; it also ends up disproportionately benefiting large operations over small to mid-sized family farms.
The U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule is headed for a showdown at the World Trade Organization Appellate Body (AB) on February 16-17. At stake are not just the economic interests of those affected by the WTO ruling on COOL and the right of consumers to know the origin of their food, but also the capacity of WTO jurisprudence to reverse a ruling when new evidence emerges. In this instance, the AB will be presented with evidence that thoroughly rebuts the facts upon which a WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) panel based its ruling against COOL.
COOL for a broad array of horticultural, nut, fish, shellfish and meat products was first mandated in the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill. Only the application of COOL to meat products has been challenged in court. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy first supported COOL’s regulatory implementation at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hearing in 2003. In successive Farm Bills, global meatpackers have sought to “reform” COOL by making the labeling rules so confusing as to be meaningless. COOL proponents have defended the labeling law successfully four times in U.S. Courts.
The eighth negotiating session for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP) is happening this week in Brussels. One of the thorniest parts of the negotiations between the U.S. and EU concerns food safety.
Today, IATP published an analysis of the European Commission’s proposed chapter on food safety, plant health and animal health and welfare (SPS), released on January 7, and a January 28 leak of the chapter on “regulatory cooperation”. The proposal for regulatory cooperation covers all U.S. and EU “regulatory acts” (pre-regulatory research and draft proposed regulations, finalized regulations, and their implementation and enforcement), including those of U.S. states and EU member states that might have a “significant impacts on trade and investment” (Article 5).
Additionally, IATP has contributed to a joint NGO statement about the SPS chapter that was released in time for an EC-sponsored TTIP Stakeholders meeting on February 4. IATP’s analysis of the proposed chapters and of the U.S. government’s insufficient capacity to provide the “appropriate level” of SPS protection guaranteed in TTIP, give plenty of reason to doubt that public, environmental and animal health and welfare will be protected, as negotiators have promised.
New school meal standards set by the federal Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act have been getting a lot of press lately. To provide healthier meals, the bill upped requirements for servings of whole grains and legumes. Farm to School programs are one way to meet this requirement while taking advantage of healthy, regionally grown products and supporting local farmers. IATP has come up with a report to help schools add regionally grown grains and legumes to your Farm to School repertoire.
Trade agreements can affect a huge range of laws and programs that determine how our economies work, how we grow and sell food, and who benefits―or loses. And they lock those decisions into permanent agreements that in many cases supersede state, local and even federal laws.
Shockingly, these powerful agreements aren’t the result of a thorough and informed public debate. While bills in Congress can be contentious, they do provide at least the possibility that the public can weigh in and even influence the final legislation. Under Fast Track rules, trade deals are negotiated behind closed doors, with the final results presented to Congress for an up or down vote, no amendments allowed, and limited floor debate.
Sometime soon, perhaps in the next month, Congress will be asked to give the Obama administration Fast Track authority. Earlier this year, IATP and more than 600 groups told Congress they should reject Fast Track, and instead take new a approach on trade, one that gives a voice to those most affected. We are launching a new webpage called Trade Secrets that uncovers what’s wrong with these new mega trade deals and how they affect our everyday lives, with our first piece focused on Fast Track.
About 200 people gathered in Lafayette Square outside of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in D.C. on Wednesday to profess loudly and clearly that our democracy is not for sale. Public Citizen organized the rally to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling; and despite the cold and the snow, a lineup of lively speakers and talented musicians ensured that the crowd remained in high spirits. The speakers shared both statistics and personal stories about how the political power afforded to big corporations is undermining our quality of life.
Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison was the featured speaker from Congress. Mid-way through his speech, after a roll call and verbal appreciation for the diversity of issues represented at the rally, he said:
“I was going around asking folks what’s the biggest problem confronting our country? People said, ‘It’s climate change!’- that’s a good one, that’s a serious problem. They said, ‘It’s wage stagnation!’- and that’s a serious problem. Some said, ‘The right to organize!’- and they also have a very good point to make. Or maybe it’s pay equality for women. Big deal, right? But if we cannot let our voice shine through our democratic institutions because they’ve been taken over by big money corporations, then none of these very important issues will be able to come through. Which, in my mind, makes reclaiming democracy, the issue.” [Resounding applause and cheers from the crowd.]
Across the board, regardless of our priorities in our respective organizations, all our issues are affected by the unprecedented ability of corporations to spend millions to influence government.
Five years ago today, the Supreme Court dealt a devastating setback to those working to reform our food and farm system. That ruling, known as Citizens United, granted corporations the same rights as people to make political donations. As a series of reports released last week show, the ruling opened the door to a flood of corporate money into political elections – expanding the influence of corporations (not just agribusiness and food companies) over our democracy and government institutions. The good news: a growing movement to take back our democracy from corporate interests is fighting back and winning some real victories.