Trade policy negotiations, such as those for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), are conducted largely as if they were private business deals. Despite many public interest issues that are subject to “least trade-restrictive” criteria in the TTIP and other so-called Free Trade Agreements, access to draft negotiating texts is restricted to negotiators and their security-cleared advisors, overwhelmingly corporate lobbyists. About 85 percent of 566 advisors to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) come from various industry sectors.
Trade negotiations texts are exempted from public disclosure otherwise required under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act by presidential Executive Order 13526, which can be rescinded by President Barack Obama. U.S. NGOs, including IATP, have repeatedly urged the USTR to end trade policy transparency exemptions. IATP was among 250 non-governmental organizations to sign a May 19 letter to the EC’s director of trade demanding the EC release for public comment draft negotiating texts and related documents.
An interesting window of opportunity for legislators dialogue between the USA and the European Union opened last week in Strasbourg, during the plenary session of the European Parliament, when Sharon Anglin Treat, from the House of Representatives of the US State of Maine, met Members of Parliament (MEPs) from various Committees and political groups in order to exchange views on the impact of on-going negotiations on a free trade agreement between the United States and Europe (TTIP) with regard to food, agriculture, environment and related issues.
Rep. Treat co-chairs the Citizen Trade Policy Commission, which advises the Maine Legislature and Governor on trade policy, and also is a member of the Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee (IGPAC) in the office of US Trade Representative Froman.
Last month, President Obama issued a memorandum to create a national strategy to promote pollinator health. The strategy includes creating a pollinator health task force and taking steps to increase and improve pollinator habitat. The fact that pollinator decline is starting to be addressed at the Federal level signals increasing recognition of the severity of this problem. Nearly one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat relies on a pollinator, and without the bees, butterflies, moths, flies, bats and other pollinators, the world food supply will become increasingly unstable.
The two largest threats to pollinators are habitat loss and pesticide use. Of particular concern are neonicotinoids, an increasingly popular kind of insecticide that control a wide variety of insects. The most common way that neonicotinoids are applied is as a seed coating. This means that the pesticide is on the seed before it’s even planted, and it travels through the plant’s vascular system as it grows. This transports the pesticide throughout all parts of the plant, including leaves, stems, flowers, fruit, pollen and nectar.
Over 94 percent of the corn and half of the soy planted in the United States is pretreated with neonicotinoids. As a result, many farmers are not even aware that they are using neonicotinoids. Awareness of the problem is growing however, especially in parts of Europe, where they have been banned. Non-neonicotinoid treated seeds are available in the U.S. too, but they need to be specifically sought out and can be hard to find.
This week, organizations and individuals around the country are coming together to tell Walgreen’s—the largest drug retailing company in the United States—to eliminate products containing toxic chemicals from their shelves. Led by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition (of which IATP is a part), the July 17 “Instagram Day of Action” is asking the company to join the Mind the Store campaign and, by doing so, agree to create an action plan to reduce and eliminate the Hazardous 100+ toxic chemicals from their supply chain. Customers will share their messages with Walgreen’s via social media to create a less toxic world.
Fantastic, right? But what do the shelves of Walgreen’s have to do with food and agriculture? Answer: Eliminating toxic chemicals from consumer products, such as phthalates in children’s toys, reduces the amount of toxic chemicals that enter our agricultural system and, thus, the food that ends up on our dinner plates.
Despite the fact that organic food sales in the United States have increased from $11 billion on 2004 to an estimated $27 billion in 2013, consumers—particularly low income communities—are still exposed to a variety of toxic chemicals through their food. While the direct use of agricultural chemicals and food additives pose known threats to human health, certain toxins, such as those on the Hazardous 100+ list, find their way to our plate in indirect ways.
Teaching children about food and where it comes from is an important part of many childcare programs, but many childcare facilities want to go a step further and build a Farm to Childcare program that connects local farmers with young children by providing fresh, healthy foods in childcare meals.
In response, IATP has just published a ready-to-use Farm to Childcare Curriculum developed in partnership with childcare provider company New Horizon Academy (NHA); and a complementary Farm to Childcare: Highlights and Lessons Learned Report that tells the story of using that curriculum to start a comprehensive Farm to Childcare program currently operating at 62 NHA childcare centers throughout Minnesota.
The Farm to Childcare Curriculum Package contains information on designing a Farm to Childcare menu and implementation schedule, recommendations on how to highlight local farmers to make the connection real for children, detailed examples of family engagement strategies and extensive experiential learning activity suggestions to incorporate Farm to Childcare themes into Circle Time, Math and Science, Sensory and Dramatic Play, Arts and conversations at mealtime. It also includes resource recommendations for further ideas.
Trade agreements are negotiated in a top down process: negotiators cut secret deals and then push for approval. These trade deals set rules on investment by corporations and banks, and lowering standards and regulations to the “least trade restrictive” possible. Local decision-makers are then left to figure out exactly what these rules mean for their state or community programs to build local economies, protect the environment or promote public health, or face challenges in special trade courts. This problem, and the fact that trade talks are held in secret until the completed deal is dropped on lawmakers’ desks, is a huge point of tension in the public debate on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), as well as the continuing debate on fast track authority, which would restrict Congressional input to an up or down vote.
The Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission (CTPC) takes a proactive approach to this dilemma. The CTPC, made up of state representatives and senators, along with representatives of important state agencies and civil society, holds public hearings and weighs in with the U.S. Trade Representative on issues of concern to local citizens. Under Maine law, the commission is mandated to “conduct an assessment of the impacts of international trade agreements on Maine’s state laws, municipal laws, working conditions and business environment.”
The UN’s Human Rights Council passed a historic resolution today for a binding International treaty to regulate human rights violations of transnational corporations. The resolution directs members to “to establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group with the mandate to elaborate an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights.” The resolution comes after heated debates at the Council with key industrialized democracies such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Austria, Japan and South Korea opposing the resolution—a total 14 countries voted against it (including Czech Republic, Estonia, Montenegro, Romania and Macedonia). Tabled by Ecuador and South Africa, a total of 20 countries voted in favor (Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Venezuela, Vietnam) while 13 others abstained (Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Gabon, Kuwait, Maldives, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, UAE).
Over 600 non-governmental organizations, including IATP, signed a statement supporting the resolution in the two months preceding the Human Rights Council meeting. The statement was initiated by several civil society organizations as part of the launch of a “Global Movement for a Binding Treaty” called the Treaty Alliance.
On June 19, Wikileaks posted the April 2014 draft text of the financial services annex of the proposed Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). The Wikileaks posting shows governments, above all the U.S. and EU trade negotiators, in their traditional role of trying to open markets for the big banks and other financial firms. Incredibly, the leaked text gives no indication that the industry the U.S. and EU negotiators so zealously lobby for needed at least a $29 trillion bailout to avoid bankruptcy from 2007 to 2010. It’s as if the negotiators slept through the financial collapse.
The bailout notwithstanding, Wall Street lobbyists and, as the leaked TISA text reveals, U.S. negotiators, continue to fight reform that would apply to bank subsidiaries in the dozens of countries in which global private financial institutions operate. The draft financial services annex would allow banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions to add to the thousands of subsidiaries they have established in dozens of countries and put strict limits on regulation to what is at best a still unreformed financial services industry. For example, the U.S. and EU negotiators propose that governments that sign on to the TISA will be required to halt new regulations and other legal “measures that a Party maintains on the date this Agreement takes effect” (Article X.4, although TISA governments are allowed to renew existing legislation).
Synthetic biology is “Still in [the] Uncharted Waters of Public Opinion,” according to a recent focus group study by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. That’s not surprising since the technology involved sounds like something out of science fiction. It includes a range of techniques to modify organisms using artificially constructed sequences of genetic information (DNA) not found in nature. The Center’s Synthetic Biology Project gives an introduction to this discipline, sometimes referred to as “synbio.”
The advancement of synbio has taken place largely under the radar, with little public debate, but that’s changing. A June 17 criticism of an NGO synbio letter by an industry lobbyist, published on the investor website The Motley Fool, served to put more of a spotlight on the issue. The Motley Fool blog was almost immediately rebutted by Synbio Watch.
Extreme weather brought on by climate change will affect each community differently. Rural communities face particular challenges, as they often have higher transportation and energy costs, and their economy is frequently linked to agriculture—a sector directly impacted by a changing climate. But as we learned at the first Rural Climate Dialogue held in Morris, Minn., last week there are effective community-level options to respond to these climate concerns—as well as important opportunities for rural communities to be part of the climate solution.
The small town of Morris lies in west-central Minnesota along the Pomme de Terre River. This town of 5,000 is surrounded by farms, and is also home to the University of Minnesota-Morris. Last week, 15 Morris-area citizens came together for a remarkable conversation about climate change, how it is affecting their community and what can be done for the future. The citizens were part of a Citizens Jury process perfected and run by the Jefferson Center. The Citizens Jury is a randomly selected, but demographically representative group, who, over the course of three days, had access to independent resources and experts to produce their own recommendations that respond to the Morris-area community’s needs, priorities, concerns and values. As we reported earlier, Morris High School students played a critical role in assembling data for the meeting through a series of local energy surveys.