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By Steve Horn
While the oil and gas industry has lauded the new trade deal that may soon replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a provision added by Mexico, along with its new president's plan to ban fracking, could complicate the industry's rising ambitions there.
The new agreement, known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), has faced criticism as being tantamount to NAFTA 2.0—more of a minor reboot that primarily benefits Wall Street investors and large corporations, including oil and gas companies.
The deal, which still has to be approved by the legislative bodies of all three countries, is a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to renegotiate or scrap altogether during his campaign.
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By Shiney Varghese
As the sixth round of the negotiations on North American Free Trade Agreement begin next week in Montreal, Canada, the controversy over exactly what a new agreement might involve—if there is one at all—continues to generate debate.
As the NAFTA renegotiations were about to start, the Canadian government publicly stated its core objectives for a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement.
The Trump administration released its objectives Monday for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The objectives suggest a repeat of labor and environmental provisions from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a deal whose demise Donald Trump widely took credit for—that were deemed too weak by virtually all leading labor and environmental groups. On other critical questions, the ostensibly "detailed" negotiating objectives provide no details, such as whether corporations will continue to be able to use NAFTA to sue governments over environmental protections in unaccountable tribunals of corporate lawyers.
The Trump administration notified Congress Thursday of its intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. Throughout his candidacy, Trump proclaimed he would "announce" plans to "totally renegotiate" NAFTA on "day one" of his presidency. Today is the 119th day of his presidency.
By Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth Action
The same day TransCanada sued the U.S. government for $15 billion, the Democratic Party's platform drafting committee met in Missouri. Between the two, there is a lesson to be learned about free trade and the climate crisis.
The lawsuit was the anticipated result of President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.Using a notorious provision in the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Canadian oil giant is hoping to claim $15 billion in lost future profits by dragging the U.S. before an international tribunal. These sorts of extra-judicial forums, where corporations can sue governments for enforcing their own laws, are a hallmark of established free trade deals like NAFTA and looming ones like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Forty environmental groups signed a letter urging Congress to reject the TransPacific Partnership. Dylan Petrohilos / Think Progress
The meeting in Missouri was to finalize a draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform, a usually sleepy and symbolic process that this year has exploded into a proxy fight between presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Pipelines like Keystone XL and free trade writ large were both on the agenda—and the votes cast reflect a growing divide between the party establishment and the grassroots.
Within hours of TransCanada filing its lawsuit under NAFTA, the platform committee had the chance to officially oppose the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, a Pacific Rim trade deal that would allow hundreds of new fossil fuel companies access to provisions similar to those used by TransCanada. The motion was rejected. Despite both candidates being on record opposing the current TPP, the motion was rejected in a 10-5 vote. It was supported by appointees from Sanders and opposed by appointees from Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Compromise language was offered instead, calling for trade deals that protect workers and the environment without mentioning the TPP by name.
Talking about responsible trade but refusing to be clear about the TPP isn't a good look, for the DNC or anyone else. If the TPP and its European counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, were both enacted, it would radically expand the power of fossil fuel companies to sue the U.S. for laws and regulations that hurt their expected future profits. The power to launch lawsuits like TransCanada's would be put on steroids and everything fromlocal fracking bans to renewable energy mandates could be litigated in trade tribunals run overwhelmingly by corporate lawyers.
Besides missing the boat on trade, the committee managed a few other favors for the TransCanadas of the world. Jane Kleeb, the founder of Bold Nebraska and the newly elected Chair of Nebraska Democrats, supported a motion calling for ending the use of eminent domain in support of fossil fuel projects. It was unceremoniously voted down. Another rejected motion was an endorsement of the so-called "climate test," the principle that infrastructure and other projects shouldn't be approved if they worsen carbon emissions. Applying this standard was what led President Obama to reject Keystone XL in the first place.
In fact, Friday turned out to be a bad night for serious climate policy all around. Motions pushed by Sanders's appointee Bill McKibben supporting a carbon tax and a national frackingban were both rejected. So too was a motion to keep fossil fuels in the ground by ending new leasing on our public lands and waters.
Even the ambitious energy target supported by both Clinton and Sanders—100 percent clean energy by 2050—wasn't an unqualified success. The language is vague enough that it could include everything from wind and solar to dangerous false solutions like biomass, carbon capture and sequestration and nukes.
The concern about what exactly counts as clean energy isn't unfounded. If Bill McKibben was chosen by Sanders as a progressive voice on climate, his alter ego appointed by Clinton is Carol Browner, a one-time Environmental Protection Agency administrator who splits her time these days between professional lobbying and pro-nuclear advocacy.
The good news is that Missouri isn't the end. The platform still needs to be approved by the full platform committee next month in Orlando and after that by the full convention in Philadelphia. When it comes to pushing back on trade and climate, there are still two more shots.
As philosopher Dr. Cornel West, another Sen. Sanders appointee, said as he abstained from the final vote, "Take it to the next stage."
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By Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins
If you think the U.S. government is doing a sub-par job of keeping your food safe, brace yourself. You could soon be eating imported seafood, beef or chicken products that don’t meet even basic U.S. food safety standards. Under two new trade agreements, currently in negotiation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could be powerless to shut down imports of unsafe food or food ingredients. And if it tries, multinational corporations will be able to sue the U.S. government for the loss of anticipated future profits.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
More frightening? Negotiations for both agreements are taking place behind closed doors, with input allowed almost exclusively from the corporations and industry trade groups that stand to benefit the most. And the Obama Administration intends to push the agreements through Congress without so much as giving lawmakers access to draft texts, much less the opportunity for debate.
Designed to grease the wheels of world commerce, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would force the U.S. and other participating countries to “harmonize” food safety standards. That means all countries that sign on to the agreement would be required to abide by the lowest common denominator standards of all participating governments. So for instance, say Vietnam allows higher residues of veterinary antibiotics in seafood than the U.S. allows, and Vietnam and the U.S. both sign on to the TPP. As a trade partner, the U.S. could be forced to lower its standards to allow for imports of seafood from Vietnam—or face a lawsuit by the seafood exporter for depriving the company of future sales of its products in the U.S.
The U.S. has already had a taste of this type of policy under the North American Free Trade Act. In 2005, the Canadian Cattlemen for Fair Trade sued the U.S. the U.S. government for banning imports of beef and live Canadian cattle after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in Canada. In the end, the U.S. prevailed, but not until it had spent millions to defend itself in court. Mexico wasn’t so fortunate when three companies (Corn Products International, ADM/Tate & Lyle and Cargill) sued the Mexican government for preventing imports of high fructose corn syrup. Mexico lost all three cases, and was forced to pay out a total of $169.18 million to the three firms.
Among the many gifts to Big Ag contained in the TTIP and TPP include back-door entry for their genetically modified seeds and crops. Countries, including those in the European Union, could find it increasingly difficult to ban, or even require the labeling of, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), if biotech companies determine that those countries’ strict policies restrict fair trade and infringe on the companies’ “rights” to profit.
The TTIP and the TPP are, individually and combined, two of the largest free trade agreements in world history. According to the Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), the TPP alone covers 40 percent of the global economy. That percentage will likely grow, because the agreement allows for other countries, besides the 12 currently involved, to “dock on” after the agreement is in place.
Both the TTIP and TPP could have dangerous consequences for food safety in the U.S., and around the world. But they’re not limited to food or agriculture policy. Both also contain sweeping policies that could affect everything from the environment and sustainability, to healthcare, Internet freedom and the financial markets. Given the potential of these agreements to shape global policy on so many fronts, it’s reasonable to assume that negotiators would actively solicit, and take into careful consideration, input from the affected parties, including consumers, farmers and governments. Instead they’ve taken the opposite approach. From day one, negotiations for the TTIP and TPP have been shrouded in secrecy. The public and participating governments, including the U.S. Congress, have been shut out of the negotiating process, denied access to everything from early proposals to final draft texts.
Why the secrecy? The Obama Administration wants as little public debate as possible, so it can ram the agreements through Congress using something called “Fast Track.” Fast Track, a product of the Nixon presidency, strips Congress of its authority to control the content of a trade deal and hands that authority over to the executive branch. Congress gets a vote, but only after the negotiations have been completed, and the agreements have been signed. No debate. No amendments. Just a fast, forced vote, too late for Congress to have any influence. According to the CTC, two-thirds of Democratic freshmen in the U.S. House of Representatives have expressed serious reservations about the TPP negotiations and the prospect of giving Fast Track authority to the President. And more than 400 organizations representing 15 million Americans have already petitioned Congress to do away with Fast Track in favor of a more democratic approach to trade agreement negotiations. So far those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
If the public is shut out, and Congress gets no say, who gets a seat at the table? Corporations. That’s right. The Obama Administration is trusting corporations like Dow AgroSciences, Cargill and DuPont, and trade groups like the Pork Producers Council and Tobacco Associates, Inc., to write food safety policies. In all, more than 600 corporations have been given access to drafts of various chapters of the TPP. Requests for the same level of access, from members of Congress and from the public, have been denied.
No wonder then that, according to leaked drafts obtained by groups like the CTC, Public Citizen and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the TPP contains proposals designed to give transnational corporations “special rights” that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens, says Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the CTC. Experts who have reviewed the leaked texts say that TPP negotiators propose allowing transnational corporations to challenge countries’ laws, regulations and court decisions, including environmental and food safety laws. Corporations will be allowed to resolve trade disputes in special international tribunals. In other words, they get to do an end run around the countries’ domestic judicial systems, effectively wiping out hundreds, if not more, domestic and international food sovereignty laws.
U.S. consumers aren’t the only ones who should be up in arms about these trade agreements, the secrecy around their negotiations and the Obama Administration’s intent to fast-track them. Under the TTIP and TPP, consumers in countries that have stricter food safety regulations than those in the U.S. will see their standards lowered, too. For instance, Japan prohibits the use of peracetic acid to sterilize vegetables, fruits and meat, while the U.S., Canada and Australia allow it. Japan’s health ministry, in anticipation of the TPP, has said the country will add the acid to its approved list. In all, Japan has approved only about 800 food additives, to the more than 3,000 approved in the U.S. Japan’s consumers could soon see a sudden reversal of laws enacted to protect their health.
European consumers will also suffer. Europe has long used the precautionary principle to ban ractopamine in meat, chlorine rinses of poultry and the use of rBGH growth hormone in milk production. Under the TTIP, Europe could be forced to allow all three in order to meet the lowest common denominator rule. The precautionary principle removes the burden of proof from policymakers, allowing them to make discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm, given the lack of scientific proof to the contrary. But that principle flies out the window under TTIP rules.
The Organic Consumers Association is urging consumers to petition President Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to release the draft texts of the TTIP and TPP, and encourage full and open debate on the policies contained in both agreements. The petition also asks President Obama to end the Fast Track option, and grant Congress the ability to debate and amend the agreements, before voting on them.
With the world’s food supply and consumers’ health already endangered by chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and climate change, the U.S. and other governments should be looking for ways to promote sustainable food and agriculture policies, not restrict governments’ abilities to do so. Instead, the Obama Administration is subverting the principles of democracy in favor of handing a few transnational corporations unprecedented power to put profits above the health and well being of consumers.
Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.