Public opposition to free trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that serve to increase inequality and concentrate corporate power has reached a loud crescendo. We got to this point through years of effort by thousands of civil society groups around the world, reaching out to educate people on the likely impacts of the very specific rules embedded in those documents, as well as defining alternatives for our economies, environments and food systems. That debate was never simply about trade; it was about decisions on the kinds of economies and societies we choose to accept.
And it’s not over yet. As public pressure continues this year, whether through vibrant events like Rock Against the TPP ! or organized pressure on specific members of Congress, there is a concerted demand by progressive civil society organizations and leaders to halt current trade agreements and to insist on a different process, different rules, and a different vision of what comes next. We need trade policy that serves to reduce inequality, build local economies and enhance environmental sustainability.
This imaginary message from a truck driver hauling 15 tons of a nano-copper (Cu) and nano-silicon (Si) powder could one day be the start of a very real accident. To think through the scientific and practical aspects of accident response preparation and intervention, U.S. and European participants, mostly scientists at an early June workshop in Washington DC on the environmental, health and safety (EHS) effects of exposure to nanomaterials, were asked to advise risk managers about EHS risk factors resulting from this and one other fake nano-accident scenario. Four hours after the truck rollover, “Nano Inc.” risk managers had to explain to public officials, to their employees and to the media what they had done to protect an elementary school, residential high rises and a business district, all downwind from the accident site. Wind, with gusts of up to 20 miles an hour, was blowing atomic to molecular size nano-particles with laboratory-characterized EHS risks. I was one of two risk managers for the nano-CU scenario.
While food and agriculture were not on the official agenda for the latest round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, July 11-15 in Brussels, the intense debate generated by Greenpeace Netherland’s leaks of 14 chapters of the draft agreement continue to reverberate through the trade policy world. Consumer and other civil society groups, having scrutinized the official texts, are pressing for major changes in the agreement’s alarming “innovations” in setting standards on agricultural animal health and welfare, plant health and food safety (in trade policy terminology, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards or SPS).
The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), an alliance of about 25 U.S. and 50 European NGOs, for which IATP serves as the U.S. co-chair of the Food Policy Committee, published a resolution on the TTIP SPS chapter in January. Because the Obama administration refuses to make public its negotiating proposals, TACD developed its resolution by using the SPS chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a proxy for the U.S. SPS positions in TTIP. In July, TACD published an update to its January resolution that made recommendations to the European Commission (EC) Directorate General of Trade (DG Trade) and to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on the basis of their negotiating proposals, as published by Greenpeace.
Last week, there was a bit of good news on the trade front: on July 8, tobacco giant Philip Morris lost its ridiculous case against Uruguay’s cigarette labeling laws. In 2010, the multinational company’s Swiss subsidiary—which owns its operations in Uruguay—sued the country over rules designed to discourage cigarette consumption, especially by young people. As in a similar case against Australia, the company alleged that requiring labels that emphasize the dangers of smoking lowered the value of its intellectual property rights (i.e., its trademarked labels) and therefore, its investments. The case was brought under the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in a bilateral investment treaty between Switzerland and Uruguay. ISDS empowers companies to sue governments in private tribunals over measures that undermine their expected profits. It has become a lightning rod for controversy in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s European Office, along with international group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), German member of Via Campesina—Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. (AbL) and PowerShift launched their new report Selling Off the Farm: Corporate Meat’s Takeover through TTIP today with a panel discussion and a press briefing at the European Parliament.
Some key findings from the report:
The outcome of the referendum in the United Kingdom is worth some thoughts about our future as Europeans.
It is useless to enter into the blaming mode. There are many reasons for being frustrated, upset, desperate or simply sad about the state of the world as it is. Our part of this world, Europe, is in a very bad state of mind. Hate is back between us, between political camps and parties, between governments, countries and people who do not even try to talk or understand each other. The question of the referendum was whether to stay or leave the EU. But the answer was more than “leave!”. It was an outcry of discontent and fear.
On front pages of newspapers and internet networks there is language which feeds racist, nationalist, chauvinistic and egoistic feelings and thinking. First there is hate in thinking, then in words, then in action. The killing of Jo Cox, the British young Member of Parliament during the Brexit campaign should ring a bell to all of us.
On a wintry day in March, residents from Winona, Minnesota gathered around tables with flip charts and markers to develop a plan for how the Mississippi River community could respond to climate change. The plan included strategies to expand local energy production and efficiency, and shift toward land use and farming practices that could slow floods that have plagued Winona over the last decade.
This type of essential community-level climate adaptation planning is happening in various forms around the country, but these efforts are often limited by divisive climate politics at the national level. A new report from the non-partisan, independent General Accounting Office (GAO) examines how other countries are establishing national-level climate adaptation planning strategies and the growing financial toll the U.S. faces by not taking stronger climate action.
On July 1, Vermont’s law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods will go into effect. That simple requirement to inform consumers about what they are eating sent a shiver through a Congress hooked on millions of dollars in biotech and food industry money. In a last minute desperate attempt to block the Vermont bill, Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow proposed a new mandatory Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling bill that would pre-empt the rights of states like Vermont to set labeling rules for GMO food.
The problem with the compromise is that it’s not really a compromise – it’s very close to what Monsanto and the food industry asked for. The industry’s priority was to avoid at all costs mandatory language or a GMO symbol on food products. The compromise bill gives food companies two options: they can use a symbol or clear language that the product contains GMOs, or they can use a bar code or QR code that could be accessed by the consumer through a smartphone. Smaller food companies would have the option to just list a website or an 800 number for consumers to find out whether the food contains GMO ingredients. Wonder which options the food companies using GMO ingredients will choose?
Many consumers don’t have smartphones to access QR codes or the instant high-speed internet access necessary to check a website on the spot when buying foods. And do you want to call an 800 number with each individual food purchase?
The Clean Power Plan is the predominant plan in the U.S. to address climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is encouraging states to set up regional carbon markets to comply with the plan; however, carbon markets to date have not achieved their intended goals. If states follow the EPA’s advice and set up new carbon markets across the country, they must learn from past mistakes to prevent more of the same underwhelming results.
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) is the most prominent U.S. example of a carbon market that has resulted in unexpected outcomes. AB 32 includes a cap-and-trade program to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The program sets a statewide emissions cap and then distributes emissions allowances to industries covered under the regulation (“covered entities”). A majority of the allowances are given away for free—a reversal of the polluter pays principle—and the remainder are auctioned off quarterly. Each year, the emissions cap and the number of free allowances each covered entity gets are ratcheted down. Ratcheting is intended to increase the value of allowances, but this strategy has not worked as of yet.
The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part five in a five part series.
Both the U.S. and EU have stated their intention for TTIP to be the “gold standard” for other agreements. This could mean that rules set in TTIP could become the default position at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other trade talks. Early in the TTIP talks, the U.S. proposed a special chapter that would encourage the EU and U.S. to work together to eliminate “localization barriers to trade”—measures that favor local content or preferences for local businesses—used by other countries not party to TTIP. It’s not clear if that idea ever saw the light of day, but now, the EU is proposing a chapter on Agriculture that could also serve to unite pressure on developing countries to conform to EU and U.S. proposals.