Trump’s trade policy is a series of contradictions wrapped in a mystery. While advancing a boldfaced pro-business agenda, promising to gut regulations and reduce public spending on healthcare and other social programs, he has also claimed to care about American workers and jobs losses caused by trade agreements like NAFTA that were specifically designed to reduce regulations. While his own businesses have included licensing deals for goods produced in developing countries known for poor labor standards, publicly he attacked U.S. companies that offshored jobs to lower costs and promised to rewrite the rules to somehow bring those vanished jobs back. He promises to negotiate better trade deals but is poisoning the political atmosphere for negotiations with xenophobic proposals such as building a wall and ordering to ban migrants. Exactly how his administration will reconcile all of those contradictions is a mystery, and there are real reasons for alarm over his lack of commitment to international human rights standards.
Food & Water Watch
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
National Family Farm Coalition
National Farmers Union
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:
Ahead World Bank’s release of the 2017 “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” (EBA) project report this month, 156 organizations (including IATP) and academics from around the world, denounced the Bank’s scheme to undermine farmers’ rights to seeds and destroy their food sovereignty and the environment. In letters to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and EBA’s five Western donors, the group has demanded the immediate end of the project, as a key step to stop the corporatization of global agricultural development.
There is little doubt that many supporters of the Donald Trump candidacy for President expect President-elect Trump to carry out his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to keep out more immigrants by building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (The Center for Migration Studies estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States with about six million from Mexico.)
However, according to a 2014 report commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation, about half of all hired farm workers are undocumented immigrants. U.S. industrial-scale animal agriculture and horticulture depend on “the abundant supply of undocumented workers available and their willingness to accept transitory, seasonal, or physically arduous work that pays introductory wages that are unattractive to the U.S.-born.” According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of farm labor, non-supervisory wages for all farm workers reported in 2012 averaged $10.80 an hour. How will the Trump administration both protect the agribusiness migrant labor dependent business model and fulfill the campaign promise to protect American jobs by deporting the undocumented?
Congress has gone on recess without holding a vote to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement during the last days of the Obama administration. But on the day after the U.S. elections, Inside U.S. Trade reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reminded journalists that President Donald Trump will still be able to present new trade agreements for an expedited, no amendments vote under the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority Act. Free trade proponents are already fretting that Trump’s notion of a better trade deal would mean “protectionism.” But what does that term really mean?
Conventionally, “protectionism” describes government actions and policies, such as taxes on imports, i.e. tariffs, and import quotas to restrain international trade and to protect local economic development. “Free” trade is said to be the absence of such actions and policies, to maximize international trade and, in theory, produce benefits for all consumers and most workers.
However, as economist Dean Baker has written, “the TPP goes far in the opposite direction [from free trade], increasing protectionism in the form of stronger and longer patent and copyright protection.” He estimates that intellectual property protectionism increases prices of prescription drugs, software and other protected products by an equivalent to a several thousand fold increase in tariffs.
Last week in Berlin, Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. (ABL), Meine Landwirtschaft (a broad platform of over 50 organizations demanding an alternative agricultural system), PowerShift and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) Europe launched the German version of our report Selling Off the Farm to highlight why trade agreements such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA, between Canada and the EU) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, between the U.S. and EU) will be disastrous for European agriculture. Given that German farmers are struggling in one of Europe’s biggest farm crises, a rise in imports from North American “factory” farms, lax food safety rules and greater corporate control will make an agriculture deal in CETA and TTIP very costly and perhaps the last straw for European family farms.
Our tour across Europe on Selling Off the Farm Corporate Meat’s Takeover Through TTIP and its links to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) launched on November 29 at the European Parliament. IATP’s Senior Advisor, Sharon Treat, Waldemar Fortuna from the Polish organization, IGO and I met with several members of the European Parliament (MEPs), including coordinators of different political parties that will decide CETAs fate in early February.
In the last two years, there has been an unprecedented awakening by ordinary citizens across Europe about the damage that free trade agreements do to policy making in the public interest. People have begun to understand that treaties, such as CETA and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), give transnational corporations even more power to expand and consolidate than they already possess. Many citizens have begun to challenge key elements of these agreements—such as the provisions that allow these corporations to sue governments for enacting public policies that might dampen their profits.
Some dates get burned in our memories. One date that pops up for me each year is November 17, the day the U.S. Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) back in 1993. Now, 23 years later, NAFTA is as controversial as ever. After a long battle in which civil society groups from all three countries worked together to draw public attention to the potential negative impacts and, even then, to propose alternative approaches to trade, the pact was narrowly approved in a late night vote.
Just days before the vote, all signs pointed to NAFTA’s defeat. But then, the power of back room deals to build a bridge in one district, to fund a study center in another (as well as assurances of side deals on things like tomato imports or cross-border trucking) overtook the opposition to the trade pact. Public Citizen later published an accounting of those deals, and the fact that many of the promises were never kept. Even before we knew the true cost of NAFTA—both in the questionable use of public funds and in the well-documented economic and environmental devastation that was to come in all three countries—it was a bitter defeat.
Corporate interest-driven trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are undermining the very principles of government by the people, and if approved, would continue to reverse hard-won progress for environmental integrity, social justice and economic development. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Tweaking current negotiated texts won’t fix the problem. But hitting the reset button on trade agreement objectives, trade negotiation processes, and actual trade rules themselves could bring about trade that stands a chance of enhancing the lives and livelihoods among trading partners. For all their public pronouncements against free trade agreements, both U.S. presidential candidates need to be part of the effort to reimagine trade with a vastly different set of objectives than those limited to corporate welfare.
The real and potential value of trade itself—to all trading parties, not just Americans—can be lost in the debate about the rules that govern it. The exchange of goods and services, over small and large distances, is thousands of years old, and the benefits innumerable. Opponents to the TPP or TTIP do not dismiss trade itself; instead, we seek to establish trade rules that are beneficial to the public interest rather than rules that reflect and perpetuate the prevailing imbalance of political and corporate interests. And because trade agreements have become political hot potatoes, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, we are in a moment when resetting trade objectives is possible.
Notwithstanding President Barack Obama’s best efforts to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement to Congress and the public on economic grounds, presidential and congressional candidates are shunning the TPP as a winning campaign issue. Even Senator Rob Portman, a former U.S. trade representative, doesn’t mention the TPP in his electoral “Jobs and Growth” agenda. The economic forecasting arguments for TPP are very weak—even according to the “heroic assumptions” of proponents, such as no change in the U.S. trade balance or net employment as a result of the TPP. So, what arguments do the TPP proponents have left?
When Congress returns to Washington after the November 8 elections, its members, particularly the defeated or retiring legislators, will be pressured to vote for the TPP in large part on national security grounds. What these grounds are, just like the draft TPP texts themselves, will remain a closely guarded secret.