On December 5, the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC) announced it had voted to propose for the fourth time the position limit rule required by the 2010 Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act. A Wall Street lawsuit in 2012 and the time required for CFTC staff to review an avalanche of industry comments delayed finalization of the rule. The CFTC published a fact sheet outlining the main features of the re-proposed 910-page rule and naming the 25 contracts subject to position limits.
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.
As the 43rd session of the UN Committee on Food Security meets in Rome this week they will finalize the negotiated draft recommendations on “connecting smallholders with markets”, developed with inputs from several hundreds of civil society organizations, including IATP. It has been a long process to get here.
At least since the food price crisis, if not from earlier, agricultural development initiatives have identified “connecting smallholders with markets” as an important strategy for ensuring the livelihood security of smallholder producers. However, most initiatives focus on integrating farmers and other smallholder producers into food value chains (vertically integrated companies that source, process and retail their products, such as Pepsi Co and Nestle), rather than exploring what kind of marketing channels would best fit the local needs of food producers, and consumers.
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.
Earlier this week, the European Parliament approved the Paris climate agreement, joining more than 60 other countries in signing the deal and paving the way for this historic global effort to enter into force. While the Paris deal is truly a major step forward, countries will have to overcome a series of hurdles created by trade agreements to reach their climate goals. An escalating fight at the World Trade Organization (WTO)—attacking renewable energy initiatives in two of the world’s biggest polluting countries (the U.S. and India)—shows why untangling trade agreements from climate goals should be the next big step.
As part of the Paris agreement, countries submitted voluntary climate plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). But the ability of countries to reach those climate goals will depend on rewriting trade rules at the WTO—and a series of regional and bi-lateral trade agreements—that consistently favor corporate rights over the climate.