Principles of a new U.S. trade policy for North American agriculture

Endorsed by

Food & Water Watch
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
National Family Farm Coalition
National Farmers Union
R-CALF
Rural Coalition

Current U.S. trade policy is designed to promote the interests of agribusinesses and other multinational corporations over those of family farmers. The resulting agreements have contributed to the economic and social erosion of rural communities in the U.S. and oftentimes devastation of its trading partners and fail to address very real problems of price volatility and environmental sustainability. These problems will not be solved simply by increasing exports.

We support the demands of many civil society organizations who reject NAFTA and similar free-trade agreements. NAFTA should be replaced with a different agreement with the goal of increasing living standards in all three countries. This should start from a thorough, open and democratic assessment of those agreements that involves both rural and urban communities. The trade negotiation process itself must be made more transparent to include the participation of all affected sectors, including independent farmers. If trade agreements include provisions related to agriculture, the overall goal should be to achieve balanced trade that supports fair and sustainable rural economies and food supplies. We call for the following priorities:

  1. Restore local and national sovereignty over farm and food policy: Trade agreements subjugate national laws and standards to legal rulings of foreign trade tribunals. U.S. farm programs must adhere to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), which restricts farm policies that address price or production — the two most effective policy levers to ensure that farmers are not hurt by the vagaries of weather, disease or market volatility. All nations should have the right to democratically establish domestic policies supported by their citizenry. That includes farm policies that ensure that farmers are paid fairly for their crops and livestock and other farm and food policies that protect farmers and consumers. In the case of NAFTA, this should include:
    • Restore Country-of-Origin Meat Labels (COOL): The 2002 farm bill established country-of-origin meat labels for beef and pork, but Canada and Mexico challenged the commonsense label as an illegal trade barrier in 2009. Canada and Mexico should withdraw their WTO COOL complaint and award in the NAFTA Renegotiated Agreement. The U.S. should clearly address the complexity of the label to clarify points previously raised by Mexico and Canada. All countries should enforce consumers right to know about what is in their foods.
    • Reject new proposals on Regulatory Cooperation that undermine state and local authority to determine the best rules for their communities. Current proposals in TTIP and TPP would establish new international bureaucracies to pass judgment over local and federal rules on pesticides, food labels, and other measures designed to improve local food systems.
    • Together, the NAFTA countries should advocate for revisions in the rules at the WTO AoA to protect the right of each country to establish policies with respect to food and agriculture that allow for inventory management and strategic food reserves and to establish border control and other mechanisms to protect the right of each country to prevent dumping of agricultural commodities at below the cost of production. A first step in this direction would be to agree to a Special Safeguard Mechanism for agricultural commodities key to food security.
  2. Stop corporate giveaways in trade agreements. NAFTA has consolidated corporate control over many aspects of agriculture in ways that are unfair to farmers, farmworkers and consumers. It was the first trade deal signed by the U.S. to include the controversial investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which allows foreign companies to sue for damages over laws, rules or actions that allegedly undermine their profits. ISDS dispute in NAFTA have already been used to challenge rules on softwood lumber, high fructose corn syrup and pesticides. U.S. trade policy should:  
    • Remove ISDS provisions in NAFTA and other trade agreements. Investment disputes should be dealt with under existing national legal systems.
    • Respect and protect regulations or policies intended to reduce anti-trust and anti-competitive practices in agriculture, including laws on price manipulation and limits on mergers of agribusiness firms. Such rules should not be limited by state-to-state or any other form of dispute resolution in trade or investment agreements.
    • Reject intellectual property rights or other provisions in trade agreements that limit farmers’ ability to save and share seeds and strengthen the power of seed companies and agribusinesses over farmers. Mexico is not currently bound by those rules and should not be coerced into signing it under the guise of a trade agreement.
    • Reject new proposals in TPP that speed up rules on approval of agricultural biotechnology products in ways that bypass national efforts to assess their safety, effectiveness and impacts on rural communities.
  3. Ensure economic viability and resilience in rural communities. Major changes in domestic farm policy are needed to ensure that farmers and ranchers receive prices that meet their costs of production. In addition, countries should have the right and ability to protect their farmers from unfair imports that distort the domestic market, undermine prices and ultimately compromise the economic viability of independent farmers.
    • Apply existing laws to prevent dumping.The United States has several tools to prevent unfair imports, including anti-dumping mechanisms (when imports from a company are unfairly priced below the cost of production), countervailing duty mechanisms (for artificially low-priced imports that benefit from government subsidies) and import surge protections on products that flood and distort domestic markets. The U.S. International Trade Commission generally has not effectively applied them to farm products despite numerous investigations. Similar mechanisms should be employed in all three NAFTA countries, starting with investigations of fruit and vegetable imports to the United States and corn imports to Mexico.
    •  Protect the rights of farmworkers to decent wages and working conditions.One of the consequences of the devastation of Mexican farming communities under NAFTA has been an increase in migration to the U.S., where farmworkers often labor under precarious conditions. New rules should be established that generate rural jobs in all three countries and that protect farmworkers’ labor and other human rights