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.
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.
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.
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:
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!”
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.”
At the Paris climate talks, negotiators chose not to address the sticky issue of trade rules, and how those rules undermine each nation’s efforts to address climate change. A new ruling today from the World Trade Organization (WTO) may make that willful silence more difficult. Today, a WTO dispute panel ruled in favor of an Obama Administration challenge to India’s solar program—a program that bears a strong resemblance to solar programs in many U.S. states.
India’s solar initiative, known as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), is designed to boost the nation’s renewable energy use and create local, green jobs. India’s program requires the purchase of domestically manufactured solar cells and modules in order for companies to receive a variety of government benefits, including favorable rates for electricity purchases. The U.S. Trade Representative charged that India’s “local content requirements” violate WTO national treatment obligations (which require foreign firms to be treated the same as domestic firms). The WTO agreed.
In responding to the WTO ruling, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman issued a warning to other governments attempting to support local, green businesses: “This is an important outcome, not just as it applies to this case, but for the message it sends to other countries considering discriminatory `localization’ policies.”
The tragic situation in Flint is in many ways a cautionary tale of democracy subverted, one that ties directly to the United States’ refusal to recognize basic human rights such as the right to water. These rights are enshrined in international law, including in the 2010 United Nations General Assembly declaration that all nations have a duty to ensure safe drinking water and sanitation.
While the debate continues about holistic management and what “true cost” actually means for livestock production models and climate change, technocrats and governments are busy establishing standards for carbon intensity reduction in industrial animal agriculture. These discussions are proceeding at a rapid pace and remain largely obscure—both in terms of the technical language used and in terms of visibility.
For instance, the Livestock Working Group of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, established at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, is forging ahead with defining standards for emissions inventories for livestock production. The goal is not to change or transform animal production to become more climate-friendly, but rather to find ways to reduce emissions within an ever-expanding, unsustainable, industrial model of production.
Countries report these inventories to quantify their reductions of emissions (intensity) to meet international commitments on climate change that served as a basis for the Paris climate agreement. The most recent newsletter of the Working Group reports:
In a February 4 speech at the Georgetown University Law School, Commissioner Sharon Bowen, of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), responded concisely to one of two questions she was asked to discuss: “Is Wall Street reformed? The short answer is no.” The following blog illustrates just a few details entailed in that “no.”
CFTC Chairman Tim Massad was summoned to the House of Representatives on February 10. Members of the Committee on Agriculture, which oversees CFTC’s legal obligations, asked him why the CFTC isn’t doing more with less to make it easier for Wall Street hedge funds to make a killing from the automated trading systems (ATS) that remain under-reported and thus “dark” to regulators. As the Wall Street Journal reported on January 26, “The market upheaval [in oil, stocks and currency prices] has provided near-ideal conditions for so-called commodity trade advisors or CTAs, hedge funds that use computer programs to guide how they trade.” ATS-exacerbated extreme price volatility is a very profitable playground for the still unregulated automated traders.