Analyzing agriculture in trade negotiations as they occur is a little like playing blind man’s bluff. However, in a negotiations “game” with myriad consequences for the domestic regulations that protect public and environmental health and worker safety, among other public interests, the public is blind-folded throughout the negotiations. The other players are industry lobby groups and governments jockeying to achieve commercial advantage, often by removing regulatory “irritants” to trade through their privileged access to the negotiations process.
And the U.S. mainstream media are happy to play along with the game, as long as they get an occasional sneak peek at negotiations texts that the Obama administration denies to the public. For example, of the latest Transpacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating sessions, the New York Times writes, “A copy of the still incomplete intellectual property chapter, viewed by the New York Times, shows just how isolated the United States’ position is."
Last week, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, the United States’ strongest climate policy to date. The plan aims to reduce coal-fired power plant emissions by allowing states to devise their own plans to reach federally-mandated emissions reduction targets. This choose-your-own-adventure policy could send states down very different paths, some worse for the environment and community resilience than others.
A bragging point for the Clean Power Plan is its flexibility; all currently identified low-carbon energy sources can play a role in state plans, including natural gas, nuclear, hydropower and other renewables. But despite the low-carbon nature these energy technologies share, they differ greatly in overall community and environmental benefit. Natural gas is abundantly available today due to controversial fracking technology (most of which occurs near rural communities); hydropower requires dam construction (sometimes on massive scales); and nuclear power comes with the risk of disastrous accidents, issues around extraction and long-term storage problems.
Farmers are no different from any buyer – they want to know what they’re buying, how much it costs and its expected performance. But in the brave new world of agricultural seeds, where multiple traits and technology are stacked like Microsoft’s operating system, it’s becoming more and more difficult for farmers to separate out what is really needed and discover how much each piece is costing them. In the case of neonicotinoid (neonic) seed coatings used as a pesticide, both the effectiveness and costs are somewhat of a mystery, according to a new paper published by IATP today.
“Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act,” Pope Francis announced early this year. How can we spend our money as if our values matter?
In some sectors and for some values this is fairly easy. Food is an obvious example. Those who want to protect the environment and human and animal health will find abundant labels guiding them to the appropriate product: USDA Organic, free range, hormone free, grass fed. For those who want to strengthen community, shrink the distance between producer and consumer and support family farmers a growing number of grocery stores label locally grown or raised.
For those who want to support farmworkers as well as farmers, however, little guidance is available. The recently launched Equitable Food Initiative and Food Justice Certified labels hope to fill this gap. The former identifies food that has been harvested by workers paid a fair wage and laboring under safe and fair conditions. The latter offers three tiers of certification covering farm, processor and vendor/retailer. Only farms have been certified.
Trade agreements require that all domestic regulations undergo “trade impact” or cost-benefit analyses before implementation to demonstrate that they are “least trade restrictive” and “necessary” to protect public and environmental health, worker safety and other public interest objectives. United Nations human rights advocates have responded by proposing that all trade agreements include provisions for “human rights impact” studies before and after implementation.
As the United States attempts to finalize the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a human rights requirement in the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill signed by President Barack Obama on June 29 may reduce the TPP members by at least one, despite White House claims that fast track TPA protects human rights. The human rights debate over trade has heated up in Washington and Geneva, the home of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
“What is your chlorine chicken?” was the question, midway through our five-day, nonstop tour of seven European cities to talk about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the largest bilateral trade agreement in history, currently being negotiated between the United States and the European Union. The very public European rallying cry “no chlorine chicken” not only sums up fundamentally different food safety and agricultural practices in the EU and U.S., but also the possibility that TTIP will dilute the precautionary principle that guides EU environmental and health policies, ultimately compromising small-scale farms and diminishing quality of life.
It was a good question and worth some thought. Is there an issue or catch-phrase that sums up American views on TTIP? After all, I was in Europe on a TTIP speaking tour (organized by the Greens and European Free Alliance of the European Parliament), along with Thea Lee, AFL-CIO economist and deputy chief staff, and Melinda St. Louis, Director of International Campaigns for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, to talk specifically about the American point of view.
A slogan that summarizes NGO and European Union Parliament requirements for regulating products of nanotechnology is “No data, no market.” But what kind of data and for what kind of market? I participated in a National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)/Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) workshop, “Quantifying Exposure to Engineered Nanomaterials from Manufactured Products,” (QEEN) to get answers to those and related questions. The CPSC, whose budget was described by one of its officials as a “rounding error” relative to other NNI agencies’ budgets, co-organized an excellent workshop dedicated to producing data to protect consumers. According to both academic and regulatory scientist presentations at QEEN, it is no small task to generate reliable, good quality data to measure the exposure of humans, animals and the environment materials ranging from atomic to molecular-size that have been advertised as the basis for the 21st Century Industrial Revolution.
Note: The following blog was submitted as a commentary in mid-June to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which declined to print it.
Peter Orszag’s attempt to discredit Senator Elizabeth Warren’s leadership of the movement against fast-track Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement neglects to disclose his financial interest in TPP and to accurately characterize the TPP (“So trade with Asia is OK if it benefits your own port?” Star Tribune, June 15, 2015).
Orszag identifies himself accurately as the former Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama. But he left the Obama administration in 2009 to become Vice Chairman of Investment Banking and Corporate Strategy and Chairman of the Financial Strategy and Solutions Group at Citigroup. Citigroup received more than $2.6 trillion in ultra-low interest Federal Reserve Bank loans from 2007 to 2010 to save it from bankruptcy (according to a Levy Institute study by James Felkerson).
In May, the banking group pled guilty to a felony for price-fixing billions of dollars of trades in foreign exchange rates. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted to waive felony penalties to allow Citigroup and other felon banks to continue to do business as usual. Neither Orszag nor any Citigroup executive was personally charged with a crime, but his strategic role in defending Citigroup drives the underhanded animus of this screed.
The people of Greece are at a critical moment as the country teeters on the verge of financial default. This is a clear case of the people against global banks and financial institutions. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy urges all of our friends and allies to stand together with the Greek people and say no to the banks.
Greece is getting the kind enhanced financial torture from the European Union that the poor and working class received from Obama in the 2008 financial meltdown. Banks were bailed out and the people left to make do. The slow recovery in the U.S. has helped us to forget the days when ninety year old grandmothers, like Addie Polk in Akron, Ohio, were killing themselves in the face of bankruptcy and foreclosure. But in Greece, a country similarly brought to its knees by uncontrolled banks and corrupt politicians, the majority of its citizens have yet to experience any relief.
Years of austerity imposed on the Greek people have failed to solve the problems confronting the birthplace of democracy. Five months ago, the Greek people elected a progressive party called Syriza to say no to the austerity policies of the IMF and European Union. The Greek government has called for a referendum on Sunday, July 5th, when the people of Greece can say whether or not they want to submit to more unemployment, wage cuts, destruction of pensions, regressive taxes, and deregulation.
IATP’s Dr. Jahi Chappell is blogging from Brasilia as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hosts the first of three public symposiums on national and regional strategies focused on agroecology.
On Friday, the first regional agroecology seminar of the FAO came to a close in Brasilia. The seminar and closing day ended with a “mística” (the cultural/spiritual ceremony I described when it occurred at the opening of the pre-meeting). Lighting a candle, movement leaders told us that it represented fire, a basic element, and in doing so, evoked the vital importance of other basic elements of life, especially the need to honor the land, and for peasants and indigenous peoples to have access and make good use of it.
Following the ceremony, participants from all sectors – social movements, NGOs, academics, governments, and international organizations – gathered as friends and comrades, old and new, hugged each other and expressed gratitude for the space this FAO seminar had created. The morning and afternoon had seen difficult negotiations, both in plenary and within a smaller, closed-door drafting group, on a final platform of recommendations from the seminar. (We will post the final declaration when it is officially released.) There were the expected tensions among the participants from the different sectors, with academics and social movements pushing for ambitious and concrete statements and commitments, and the ability and willingness of governments and the FAO to go only go so far, given their own commitments, pressures, and restrictions to many constituencies going beyond the groups in the room.