January 26, 2015

Food Sovereignty at Stake in New Trade Deals

Karen Hansen-Kuhn

Karen Hansen-Kuhn

CLF Guest Blogger

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

stop-taftaCompanies from the U.S. and the EU are conducting trade negotiations in secret, and the negotiations are explicitly geared toward eliminating “localization,” which those companies see as a barrier to trade. That’s right, in the view of trade officials, localization is a vice, not a virtue.[1] The U.S. and EU negotiating objectives for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, also known as TAFTA because of its similarities to NAFTA) seek to bring regulatory standards on pesticides, toxic chemicals and food safety between the EU and U.S. closer together, to override local rules and programs, and to open public procurement and other local markets to competition from foreign investors. EU companies, for example, are pushing to make stricter U.S. standards on listeria equivalent to theirs. U.S. companies are pushing hard to lower EU pesticide rules. [2]

Communities around the world are retaking control over their food systems in many innovative ways—and each of these efforts could be under threat by TTIP trade negotiations. Efforts include farmers and school districts working together to bring healthier, locally and regionally grown foods into school lunches at fair prices and the expansion of those programs to hospitals, day care centers and other public institutions. State legislatures are enacting new restrictions on toxic chemicals used on our farms and foods. Activists are pushing for labeling of GMOs and other initiatives to advance the right to know what’s in our food and how it is produced. Many EU member states, relying on the Precautionary Principle, have enacted restrictions on endocrine-disrupting chemicals in food and food packaging, and planting of GMO seeds in their communities. But these efforts are at risk with the trade negotiations.

To make matters worse, TTIP and other trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP, which includes the U.S. and eleven other countries) are negotiated in secret. Under Fast Track rules, trade agreements can be negotiated behind closed doors and then the resulting deal is presented for an up-or-down vote to Congress. This means that not only are the details of the talks not known, we also don’t know if provisions on local procurement of school lunches, for example, are being traded off against commitments in other sectors, perhaps auto safety standards or energy exports. The EU recently took a step towards greater transparency, publishing its negotiating proposals on eight issues, but for the most part, we are forced to rely on bits of leaked text, conversations with negotiators, and summaries of negotiating objectives to know what’s at stake in the trade talks. In fact, though, a lot of information has been leaking from the TTIP talks, so we have some concrete information on several big areas of concern:

Public procurement

The EU is pushing hard to open public procurement contracts to bids from foreign firms at all levels of government—federal, state and local. Recent reports indicate that they are pushing for commitments from astonishingly small units: counties with more than 500,000 people; universities with more than 10,000 students; and hospitals with more than 500 beds. These provisions could outlaw bidding preferences for locally grown foods, local employment, or respect for animal welfare or labor rights. So, under these rules, if a European food distribution firm like Sodexo wanted to bid on a university cafeteria program, it could challenge bidding criteria that give preferences to locally grown foods. Or an energy firm could challenge local hiring or living wage requirements on a publicly funded renewable energy project.

TTIP or TPP could also rule out Buy American programs for construction, transportation and energy, among other sectors. It is not at all clear who would decide on those commitments, but based on past trade deals, it seems likely that Governors would be asked to sign on for their states. While opening up U.S. procurement programs is a priority for the EU, any commitments would also apply in Europe, potentially undermining innovative programs at the local level there, too.

Food safety

The EU has banned beef produced with growth hormones, chlorine-rinsed chicken, and meat produced using ractopamine (a failed asthma drug used to speed lean meat production that is banned in 160 countries). It requires labeling of any foods using GMOs. All of these programs have been targeted for elimination by U.S. agribusiness firms in their public comments on the trade talks. EU officials insist that these provisions are off the table, but U.S. trade and agriculture officials keep putting them right back on, in some cases pushing for concessions in advance of the conclusion of the talks (such as allowing other chemical rinses of chicken—still a step back from the EU’s farm to fork approach). [3]

The EU’s current negotiating proposals call for federal food safety standards to overrule any state or local restrictions. This could mean that California’s new ban on eggs produced in battery cages, or the Oregon ban on neonicotinoids (a pesticide linked to honeybee colony collapse disorder) could be deemed illegal under the trade deal. These rules are not so much targeted at specific standards as at the idea that food safety, pesticide, or toxic chemical policies that go beyond what’s been agreed to at the federal level can be passed at the local level. Exporters want rules to be simple and uniform, but often, that’s not how change in environmental or food safety standards happen. These kinds of rules could cut short the bottom-up process of change.

Investor protections

The investment rules under consideration in TTIP and TPP could also serve to overturn local progress on key issues. Under Investor-State Dispute Settlement, a key provision in the trade deals’ investment chapters, corporations could sue for compensation over public interest laws or regulations that undermine their expected profits. Under NAFTA, three U.S. firms won $167 million in compensation over Mexico’s ban on High Fructose Corn Syrup. Using that provision in a bilateral deal, a Swedish firm is suing Germany over its phase out of nuclear power. There are dozens such cases around the world, and several governments are seeking to withdraw from this unfair provision. More than a million Europeans voted against ISDS in a public referendum, but still the two governments insist that this is the “Gold Standard” of investor protections, something they would seek to expand to other countries in the future.

What can you do?

The trade agreements are still being negotiated, but the time to act is now, before the terms are set in stone. In the U.S., the major fight right now is over Fast Track, a Nixon-era legislative mechanism that gives the administration the ability to negotiate trade deals in secret and to submit the completed agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote, no amendments, and limited debate. Trade proponents in both parties have announced their intention to work together to pass fast track early in 2015. Contact your representatives in Congress to urge them to declare their opposition to fast track. See http://www.iatp.org/tradesecrets for more information and action alerts, or contact Citizens Trade Campaign (www.citizenstrade.org) to join the multi-sectoral campaign.

People all over the world will join forces to hold a Global Day of Action on Trade on April 18 (also Food Sovereignty Day). Hold an event in your community and connect with activists in Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand, among many other countries to show what’s at stake and why you care about local food and farming systems. IATP will be documenting the events through social media and a dedicated website.

[1] See http://www.ustr.gov/trade-topics/localization-barriers, for example.
[2] See Lowest Common Denominator: EU-US trade deal threatens to lower standards of protection from toxic pesticides by the Center for International Environmental Law, January 2015.
[3] What Is Wrong with Chlorinated Chicken? BEUC [European consumer organization]

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