Think Forward blog

Upping the ante in the TTIP: Let’s add financial services and call your bluff

Posted August 7, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from G20Voice.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

The launch of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations presents a new challenge to commodity and financial market reform. Those reforms, codified in the U.S. in rules authorized by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, are intended to prevent a reoccurrence of the big bank bankruptcies  that were avoided only by the nearly $30 trillion bailout of mostly U.S. and European financial institutions from 2007 to 2010. The U.S. Department of Treasury has announced its opposition to the inclusion of financial services in the TTIP. However, according to Inside U.S. Trade (subscription required), the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said that it was evaluating the benefits of including financial services, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said that financial services would be included.

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Biotech industry moves toward “transparency” while pulling the curtain over trade agreements

Posted August 1, 2013 by Dale Wiehoff   

Used under creative commons license from biocat.

A meeting of the Council for Biotechnology Information (BIO) in Europe in March 2013.

Earlier this week, Andrew Pollack reported in the New York Times that biotech companies like Monsanto, Dupont and Dow Chemical announced through an industry association that they would be more transparent with the public about the chemicals and genetically modified seeds they sell. According to Cathleen Enright, executive vice president at the Council for Biotechnology Information (BIO), “We have not done a very good job communicating about GMOs. We want to get into the conversation.”

To move that conversation along, they’ve opened a new web site, GMOAnswers.com. Any move toward greater transparency from companies who have spent decades suing farmers, spending millions to prevent the labeling of food containing GMOs, hiring private security firms to break into their critics offices and steal information—not to mention generally bullying anybody who questions the safety and value of their products—should be good news. But like with most news from chemical and seed companies, it is another reason to worry that the public will be misled and the issues will be futher obfuscated.

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Celebrating the IATP Food and Community Fellows

Posted July 19, 2013 by Colleen Borgendale   

Valerie Segrest talking about huckleberry while teaching the group about making tea. 

In late June, alumni from the past eight classes of the IATP Food and Community Fellows program met for the last time against the backdrop of the Snoqualmie Falls outside of Seattle. Almost every class was represented at the event heldand its alumni and to discuss the future of the network within the context of the larger food movement.

Launched in 2001 as the Food and Society Policy Fellows, the program was originally envisioned as a “public policy education team” that would work in support of the vision and goals of this new program at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and hosted by IATP. The Fellows were innovative changemakers who advocated for food and farming systems that would be just and healthy for all people. The program nurtured the development of 86 alumni, many leaders in their fields, and helped make major contributions to the growing food movement. In late 2012, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation announced that it would no longer be funding the Fellows’ program.

A reception featuring local fruits and beverages and a dinner highlighting Washington cuisine kicked off the event allowing Fellows to share stories, meet alumni from other classes, reconnect and discuss the latest news and ideas in their fields. Discussions included the challenges of modern fishing, mushroom foraging and the finer details of what was served for dinner that evening.

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Fruits of NAFTA

Posted July 17, 2013 by Dale Wiehoff   

Miguel Angel Treviño Morales

In the early morning hours Monday, on a remote road near the Texas-Mexico border, Mexican marines picked a deadly and rotten piece of fruit when it captured Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, the sadistic boss of Los Zetas criminal cartel. Los Zetas appeared on the scene in 1999, an elite unit of the Mexican military that went rogue, working at first for the Gulf drug cartel and eventually breaking off to form their own criminal organization known for employing extremely brutal methods of torture, terror and mass murder. Los Zetas quickly became a major force in Mexican drug trafficking.

Drug cartels existed long before the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, but not drug cartels as we know them today. As we approach the 20th anniversary of NAFTA, we can no longer ignore its contribution to building a powerful and violent criminal enterprise that has brought Mexico close to being labeled a failed state and made the Mexican-U.S. border into a war zone.

Most often when we analyze trade agreements, the focus is on trade volumes, jobs and manufacturing statistics, poverty levels and immigration—all extremely important ways to understand the impact of neoliberal policies bequeathed to us from Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. But to fully appreciate how devastating free trade has been, we need to look more closely at the aftermath of free trade on the bonds that hold communities together. It starts out small, a single thread that eventually leads to unraveling the whole cloth.

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A long and winding road to global derivatives market reform

Posted July 17, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from World Trade Organization.

Gary Gensler (CFTC) and Michel Barnier (European Commission)

In September 2009, the Group of 20 Leaders, including President Barack Obama, announced their commitment to regulate the over-the-counter (OTC) commodity and financial derivatives market. Since then, however, ferocious industry resistance, abetted by sympathetic lawmakers, has frustrated realization of this commitment.  Substantive differences in law and market infrastructure, combined with this resistance, have made the reform process a long and winding road without a comprehensive agreement on how to prevent another OTC-triggered global financial crisis.

It would be hard to overstate the impacts of the 2008 financial meltdown. Losses among major players in the global OTC market threatened to bankrupt the global financial system. Taxpayer-funded bailouts of the world’s largest banks and nearly $30 trillion of U.S. Federal Reserve Bank emergency ultra-low interest rate loans saved the banks from losses for which they had woefully inadequate reserves to pay up. The General Accountability Office (GAO) has estimated the financial damage to the U.S. economy from the OTC market meltdown at about $13 trillion, to say nothing of untold costs of human suffering.

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The obesity epidemic: What do chemicals have to do with it?

Posted July 9, 2013 by    

Used under creative commons license from beana_cheese.

BPA, used in metal can linings, can have obesogenic effects—especially on developing children.

We are all hearing a lot about obesity these days and more people are obese than ever; one-third of American children and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. The American Medical Association has declared that obesity is a disease.

While some disagree with the designation of obesity as a disease, there is strong evidence that obesity is linked with diseases—specifically Type II diabetes and heart disease. There is also general agreement that obesity is a major public health problem. Preventing obesity would contribute to a healthier, happier population and save an estimated $190 billion per year in direct health care costs.

But how do we prevent obesity? We all know that we should eat healthier and exercise more to maintain a healthy weight, but few people are aware that avoiding exposure to certain chemicals could reduce their risk of obesity, especially during prenatal life and in childhood. An emerging body of science links chemicals that disrupt hormones to increased risk for obesity.

Fetuses and children are the most vulnerable to adverse health effects from hormone-disrupting chemicals. Like hormones themselves, these chemicals exert health impacts even at minute levels of exposure and exposures in the womb can have lifelong impacts.

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Trade Secrets – Draft EU documents reveal trade agenda with U.S.

Posted July 3, 2013 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Transparency and trade negotiations don’t seem to go together these days. Recent revelations in Spiegel disclosed that the U.S. government had been spying on its EU “partners” connected to negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, probably better stated as the Trans Atlantic Free Trade agreement, or TAFTA, which very much rhymes with NAFTA). The French and German governments are outraged, with some parliamentarians calling for a suspension of the talks, slated to start next week in Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, the only way civil society groups find out about the negotiations are through basically one-way conversations, where we express our concerns to trade officials, or through leaked negotiating documents. One such text came our way over the weekend, a set of position papers summarizing some of the EU’s initial goals on regulatory harmonization, which would be sent to the U.S. ahead of the talks. It includes initial proposals on regulatory issues involving the automotive sector, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, Sanitary and Phytosanitary issues (SPS), competition policy, a proposal for a chapter on trade and sustainable development, trade in raw materials and energy, and an ambitious proposal for cross-cutting disciplines on regulatory issues. It starts out by asserting that, “the TTIP offers a unique chance to give new momentum to the development and implementation of international regulations and standards (multilateral or otherwise plurilateral). This should reduce the risk of countries resorting to unilateral and purely national solutions, leading to regulatory segmentation that could have an adverse effect on international trade and investment.”

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Parallel U.S. and EU delays in derivatives market regulation

Posted June 24, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from United States Government Work.

Jacob Lew, U.S. Secretary of Treasury and chairman of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC).

A recent announcement by the European Commission has consequences for anyone affected by an interest rate, the price of oil or the price of wheat [read: everyone]. 

On June 15, Reuters reported that the European Commission had decided to extend the deadline for U.S. financial firms to comply with European Securities Market Authority (ESMA) regulatory deadlines. However, the compliance concession is deceptive since ESMA has yet to finish issuing rules that would apply to EU and non-EU financial firms. Rules to implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act require that most trades be “cleared” on a central platform, to protect other market participants from the consequences of default by one or more counterparties to a trade.

Indeed, the U.S. and EU are among the Group of 20 members that committed to centralize clearing in 2009. ESMA is still trying to decide which commodity and financial contracts will have to be cleared. Other European market reform legislation has yet to be passed, much less implemented. In addition to extending its own deadline, the European Commission is hoping to use the “concession” as a bargaining chip to push the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) into extending its July 12 compliance deadline for European financial firms on rules it has finalized. This proposed exchange for a European deadline extension to comply with rules it has yet to finalize, is disingenuous. Perfect synchronicity and harmonization in transatlantic rulemaking is not achievable. The CFTC should not, yet again, extend its compliance deadline beyond July 12 in response to the Commission’s gambit.

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Measuring hunger: A Response to the FAO

Posted June 20, 2013 by Sophia Murphy   

FAO’s 2012 State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI)

In December 2012, I received an email from Frances (Frankie) Moore Lappé, a woman whose name I had known since I was a teenager interested in hunger and poverty issues and reading all I could on the subject. I was honored. Frankie was reaching out to organizations and individuals who work to end hunger to ask if we had read the FAO’s 2012 State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report and if so, what we had made of it. Frankie was concerned about a number of things, including that the report presented too rosy a view on how the world’s governments were doing in their ambition to eliminate hunger, and too rosy a view on what economic growth could do about the problem.

It did not take Frankie long to persuade a group of us, including IATP, to take notice and formalize our concerns. Those concerns include:

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Greening the CAP

Posted June 20, 2013 by Dale Wiehoff   

As the U.S. Farm Bill debate drags on like a bad dream you can’t wake up from, Europe is entering the final stretch of multi-year negotiations on the 2014–2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). As with the Farm Bill, agreement on the CAP is far from a sure thing.

In the U.S., we have the House of Representatives working overtime to eliminate funding for almost everything in the Farm Bill. The President is threatening to veto it if Congress takes too much from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamp) program, which accounts for close to 70 percent of the Farm Bill’s cost.

In Europe, the CAP debates have a familiar ring over direct payments and capping and coupling aid. Unlike the U.S., high on the list are proposals designed to “Green the CAP,” which includes addressing environmental and economic challenges. The CAP debate is simplified by not including a massive food aid program like SNAP, but complicated by a process that in the current phase is called “triolgues.”

Triolgues bring together the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council to hammer out the final agreement. In the European Parliament, civil society organizations like ARC 2020 have led in the debates on greening the CAP. Starting in 2010, ARC 2020 issued an outline for comprehensive reform of European agriculture and rural policy. Their proposals have been met with widespread popular support but serious foot dragging from the EU ministers. A live debate between Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş and the European ParliamentAgriculture Committee Chair, Paolo De Castro on June 20 will highlight what is at stake.

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