Category Archives: NAFTA

A Historic Opportunity To Transform Trade When We Stop NAFTA II

Donald Trump was right when he said that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been a disaster for the United States and promised to renegotiate it when he became president. However, the renegotiated NAFTA-2 is worse than the original NAFTA and should be rejected.

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On December 1, NAFTA-2 was signed by President Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nietos. This started the process of approval by the legislatures of each country.

Our movement for trade that puts people and planet first now has two synergistic opportunities: We can stop NAFTA II and replace corporate trade with a new model that raises working conditions and protects the environment.

Join our No More Rigged Corporate Trade campaign and take action now.

No NAFTA -2 from Popular Resistance

Stopping NAFTA-2

When NAFTA became law on January 1, 1994, it began a new era of trade – written by and for transnational corporations at the expense of people and planet. President George H.W. Bush failed twice to pass NAFTA. During Bush’s re-election campaign, independent Ross Perot described NAFTA as the “giant sucking sound” that would undermine the US economy.

President Clinton was able to get it through Congress. The Los Angeles Times described that vote as “a painfully divided House of Representatives” voting a 234-200 for NAFTA. A majority of Democrats 156-102 opposed NAFTA. During the debate, protesters were ejected when they showered fake $50 bills that said “trading pork for poison” from the visitors gallery.

In the 2016 election, President Trump showed he understood what the United States experienced — NAFTA was bad for the people undermining manufacturing and agriculture. People want it repealed. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Trump had his finger on the pulse of the population.

NAFTA-2 is another trade agreement designed for corporate profit. Trump trade fails to provide enforceable protections for workers or the environment. In this time of climate crisis, it does not mention climate change. It fails to protect the food supply and will result in increased cost of medicines.

Citizen’s Trade Campaign writes, there are positive labor standards “but only if currently absent enforcement mechanisms are added.” As the Labor Advisory Committee states: “Unenforced rules are not worth the paper they are written on.”

The Sierra Club reports NAFTA-2 takes a significant step backward from environmental protections included in the last four trade deals by failing to reinforce a standard set of seven Multilateral Environmental Agreements that protect everything from wetlands to sea turtles.

NAFTA-2 allows intensely-polluting oil and gas corporations involved in offshore drilling, fracking, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, or other polluting activities to challenge environmental protections in rigged corporate trade tribunals. Trump Trade preserves a NAFTA rule that prevents the US government from determining whether gas exports to Mexico are in the public interest. This creates an automatic gas export guarantee, which will increase fracking, expand cross-border gas pipelines, and increase dependency on Mexican climate-polluting gas.

Food and Water Watch summarizes:

The energy provisions will encourage more pipelines and exports of natural gas and oil that would further expand fracking in the United States and Mexico. The text also provides new avenues for polluters to challenge and try and roll back proposed environmental safeguards, cementing Trump’s pro-polluter agenda in the trade deal.

NAFTA-2 undermines food safety and health by making it more difficult to regulate and inspect foods. It limits inspections and allows food that fails to meet US safety standards to be imported. NAFTA-2 serves Monsanto and other giant agro-chemical corporations by allowing unregulated GMOs, rolling back Mexico’s regulation of GMOs, and letting chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow keep data on the risks of their pesticides secret for 10 years. NAFTA-2 is designed for agribusiness, not family farmers and consumers.

NAFTA-2 increases the cost of pharmaceutical drugs through intellectual property protections that go “significantly beyond” NAFTA. Trump’s NAFTA-2 gives pharmaceutical companies a minimum 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs and protects US-based drug companies from generic competition, driving up the price of medicine at home and abroad.

All the ingredients that led to a mass movement of movements that stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership  exist to stop NAFTA-2. Citizens Trade Campaign sent a letter signed by 1,043 organizations to Congress outlining civil society’s shared criteria for a NAFTA replacement. The requirements outlined in this letter have not been met.

Just as it became impossible across the political spectrum to support the TPP, we can make it impossible to support NAFTA-2. Democrats are signaling NAFTA-2 is not going to pass in its present form. After Robert Lighthizer met with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi last week, she described NAFTA-2 as “just a list without real enforcement of the labor and environmental protections,” that would be unlikely to pass in its present form. We can stop NAFTA-2.

No Ne NAFTA protest, Fair Deal or No Deal from Green Watch

Defeat of NAFTA-2 Creates the Opportunity to Transform Trade

The defeat of NAFTA-2 will show that corporate trade will no longer be approved by Congress.  Trade must be transformed to uplift workers, reduce inequality, confront climate change and improve the quality of our food and healthcare. The defeat NAFTA-2 opens the space to make transforming trade a major issue in the 2020 presidential campaigns.

President Trump has signaled that he will withdraw from NAFTA to pressure Congress to ratify NAFTA-2. Trump’s threat to withdraw from NAFTA should not be feared but embraced. It will create an opportunity for trade transformation.

A smart presidential campaign will use the defeat of NAFTA-2 as an opportunity to begin a new era of trade transformed for the public good, serving the many, not the few. Politicians running for president in 2020 can put forward a vision of trade that the people will support.

Already, Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) has taken initial steps in this direction. In a speech to American University, Warren said she opposed Trump’s NAFTA-2 agreement, challenged the bipartisan embrace of “free” trade, and called for starting “our defense of democracy by fixing” corporate trade. In discussing trade she said, “Wow. Did Washington get that one wrong.”  She described trade as delivering “one punch in the gut after another to workers…” She urged, “We need a new approach to trade, and it should begin with a simple principle: our policies should not prioritize corporate profits over American paychecks.” This is a start, if she adds the environment, climate change, healthcare, food safety, sovereignty and Internet freedom, she will put forward a vision of smart trade that will bring millions to support her.

Warren is not alone, Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), who easily won re-election in Ohio and is considering a presidential run, has been a longtime advocate for trade that lifts up workers and challenged agreements that failed to do so. Brown sent a letter to the president eight days after the 2016 election urging Trump to keep his trade promises. Brown voted against NAFTA in one of his first acts as a member of Congress in 1993 and wrote a book entitled “Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed.”

Transforming trade, by rejecting corporate trade, creates an opportunity for candidates to turn a negative issue into a positive one. The movement needs to demand candidates put forward a new vision for 21st century trade.

Source Bilaterals.org

A Vision for Trade for People and Planet

We must put forward the vision for trade we want to see as part of the campaign to stop NAFTA-2. Trade in the 21st entury needs to confront multiple crisis issues made worse by trade designed for corporate wealth. Transformed trade needs to focus on the public interest.

Pubic interest includes shrinking inequality within the United States and between nations. It means workers having a livable wage, encouraging worker-ownership of businesses so they grow their wealth not just their incomes. Trade should strengthen the rights of workers to organize, create unions and adhere to International Labor Organization standards.

Trade should aid in preventing transnational corporations and wealthy individuals from avoiding taxes. Trade should end tax havens and require transparency, end banking abroad or locating corporate charters offshore to ensure wealthy individuals and corporations pay their taxes. Countries can negotiate a global tax collected to solve global problems like poverty, homelessness, lack of healthcare and environmental degradation.

There are numerous environmental crises that trade needs to address. Three reports, the dire October 2018 IPCC report, warning we have 12 years to transform the energy economy to prevent climate catastrophe, the November 23, 2018 4th National Climate Assessment, which warned of the serious impacts of the climate crisis and the Global Carbon Project which reported carbon emissions are at record highs, show climate change must be central to trade policies.

International trade needs to be re-formulated to protect the labor, human rights, economy, environment and domestic industry of partner and recipient nations so local industry and agriculture has the advantage over foreign corporate domination. Trade needs to guarantee people their right to public ownership and control of their own resources. Trade agreements must protect the rights of nations to establish stricter standards for health, safety, human rights and environmental protections.

Take action now to stop NAFTA-2.

Mexico on the Eve of AMLO: “So Far from God and So Close to the United States”

The full quote by Porfirio Díaz is: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” Mexican President Díaz (1876-1880 and 1884-1911) got it at least half right. Mexico has suffered in the shadow of the Colossus of the North, but Mexico is not poor. Mexico is rich in many ways, yet it also has been impoverished. And Mexico has been greatly underappreciated by North Americans.

Mexico is bucking an international right-wing tide, shifting its government from right to left-of-center with the presidential inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on December 1. Speaking for international capital, The Economist is worried. The other 99% of humanity is hopeful. A cautionary history of this trice conquered land follows.

Pre-Colombian Mexico and the First Conquest

Prior to Europeans “discovering” the New World, Mexico was home to many great civilizations, which thrived for nearly four millennia: Aztec, Huastec, Izapa, Maya, Mixtec, Olmec, Purépecha, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Totonac, and Zapotec. History and Headlines rates the “10 great historical civilizations,” naming the Olmecs and Aztecs alongside the Romans, Persians, and Egyptians.

The popular image of the Aztec depicts savage men in loin clothes and feathers on top of stone pyramids making human sacrifices. But let’s put that into historical context. Historian James Cockcroft tells us that at the same time the barbarians in the New World were assuaging their pagan gods with human blood, more  people met their end  burned at the stake as “witches” by the civilized Europeans in the name of Jesus. Christian femicide is a forgotten legacy.

European contact in 1519 brought Christianity and disease to the then flourishing Mexican civilizations. While the Europeans and the indigenous Americans were roughly on the par technologically, the Europeans were far more adept at war and to them went victory and the spoils.

Geographer Jared Diamond estimates that 90% of the Native American population was obliterated by measles, small pox, flu, and the like for which the Europeans had developed relative immunities. Mexico did not regain its 1519 population until 1940, taking over 400 years to recover.

Although the official language of Mexico is now Spanish and Mexico is the most populous Spanish speaking nation in the world, it is also home to the largest number of actively spoken indigenous languages in North America.

The Second Conquest of Mexico

The first conquest of Mexico was by the Spanish conquistadores. The second was by the Yankees and has received far less acknowledgement.

Mexico won its independence from Spain in the period 1810-21 and with it slavery was abolished, though not entirely until 1829. It wasn’t until 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued followed by the Thirteenth Amendment two years later, that formal slavery was abolished in the US. However, sharecropping and Jim Crow laws continued to preserve the “peculiar institution” in the “land of the free.”

The Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819 established the border between the former Spanish colonial territories and the former British colony, now the US.

By 1836, the Republic of Texas succeeded from Mexico and was annexed to the US in 1845. The following year, the Mexican-American War was provoked by the US as a war of conquest.

Two years later, Mexico was forced to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceding nearly half its national territory. The US gained what would become parts or all of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 added southern Arizona and New Mexico to the spoils of war.

In all, 55% of Mexico, over half of her sovereign territory, was taken from Mexico by the ever-expanding Colossus of the North. No wonder our Chicanx compatriots remind us “we did not cross the border, the border crossed us.”

Alta California

Gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill just a few days before the treaty was signed, which transferred Alta (upper) California from Mexico to the US. The discovery of gold was unknown to the signatories at the time.

Alta California was to become the Golden State. With a $2.7 trillion economy, the state now boasts the world’s fifth largest economy, larger than Mexico’s $2.4 trillion gross domestic product (GDP). Were Alta California to rejoin Mexico, the new union’s GDP would be surpassed only by the mega-economies of China, US, India, and Japan.

The constitution for Alta California was drafted in both Spanish and English. Despite having a bilingual constitution, the Alta California voters passed the English-only Proposition 227 in 1998. Then in 2016 the voters passed Proposition 57, which repealed the more egregious English-only provisions of the earlier proposition.

The repeal of the English-only proposition reflected an influx of non-English speakers into the state. Alta California is today a truly multi-ethnic state with 43% of its inhabitants speaking a language other than English at home. The largest ethnic group is again Hispanic-Latinx, comprising 39% of the population and outnumbering what the Census Bureau calls “white alone.”

The Mexican Revolution

The bully to the north became revolution-adverse after concluding its own revolution. When Haiti won its independence from France in 1804, the US joined Napoleon’s empire to force the fledgling Haitian nation to pay debilitating reparations for freeing itself from slavery.

Nevertheless, the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20 was able to slip by. In those days the US empire was not as capable at multitasking as it is now and was preoccupied by World War I.

The Mexican Revolution stands in the pantheon of great 20th century revolutions, pioneering the way for Russia (1917), China (1949), Vietnam (1975), and the many Third World liberation struggles of the last century.

As the first of the major 20th century revolutions, the Mexican Revolution guaranteed labor rights, nationalized subsoil rights, secularized the state and curbed the power of the Roman Catholic Church, and gave inalienable land rights to indigenous communities. Women’s rights were advanced, and women fought as soldiers and even commanders in General Emilio Zapata’s revolutionary army. Many of these gains have since been eroded.

The Revolution Institutionalized

After the tumultuous revolutionary period, politics in Mexico became consolidated under the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). This single corporatist party brought together political factions representing the peasantry, labor, and urban professionals. As the revolutionary period receded, the PRI became politically centrist.

The one-party rule of the PRI was finally ended with the successful presidential election in 2000 of Coca Cola executive Vincente Fox of the PAN (National Action Party). The PAN won the subsequent presidential election as well. The PAN is a right-of-center Christian democratic party. It has strong backing among northern Mexican agri-business and international corporations and has a conservative social agenda.

The current Mexican president, Peña Nieto, is a member of the PRI. As the PRI moved to the right, more liberal forces within split in 1986 and formed the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution). The main stronghold of the PRD has been Mexico City and among organized labor.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador was the PRD standard bearer in the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections. His losses in both elections are widely believed to be due to fraud.

NAFTA – the Third Conquest of Mexico

The third conquest of Mexico by North American finance capital came in the form of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and similar neoliberal arrangements. Neither free nor restricted to trade (e.g., it includes military cooperation), this stealth conquest facilitated the repatriation of foreign investment profits and the further integration of Mexico into the US economy.

NAFTA was ratified in 1994 among Mexico, the US, and Canada. The agreement remains controversial in the constituent counties. The Zapatistas in southern Mexico specifically chose the initiation date of their on-going rebellion to coincide with the day NAFTA started, presciently predicting the deleterious effects NAFTA would have.

By 2014, as many as a million US workers had lost their jobs due to NAFTA, which also had the effect of depressing wages.

NAFTA ended many Mexican government supports for agriculture, while encouraging entry of US and Canadian agricultural products. Consequently, peasant and most family farm agriculture in Mexico are less economically viable. The result has been a massive internal migration from the countryside into Mexican cities and an external emigration of people forced off the land to the US.

Neoliberalism’s Winners and Losers

A decade or two before the imposition of NAFTA, Mexico had appeared poised to transform from a developing to a developed country. New oil reserves had been discovered and a boom seemed imminent. Then instead of continuing a development model, Mexico bowed to international financial pressure and switched to a neoliberal model of deregulation and privatization.

Rather than lifting Mexico’s economy through its deeper integration with the US economy, as NAFTA’s proponents promised, Mexico has fallen even further behind. After NAFTA and the neoliberal “reforms,” poverty went up in Mexico while per capita economic growth lagged compared to the rest of Latin America.

Instead of wages becoming like those in the US, working wages became competitive with Guatemala. Mexico took its place in the international market economy as an export platform for low-wage maquiladoras, factories owned by foreigners and exporting to a foreign market.

Despite great national wealth, 46% of Mexicans live below the poverty line. The per capita income of Mexico is a third of the US, making the shared border the most income-unequal border in the world.

Neoliberalism has also had its winners. The government telephone monopoly Telmex was privatized in 1990, bought up by Carlos Slim Helú who became the richest man not only in Mexico but in the entire world by 2010. His ranking has now slipped to seventh, though he is still the top tycoon in Mexico owning 40% of the listings on the Mexican stock exchange. His net worth is equivalent to 6% of Mexico’s GDP, which is greater than the entire GDP of neighboring Guatemala and four times that of Nicaragua.

With a new strata of billionaires and deepening poverty, both spawned by neoliberalism, Mexico is among the more income unequal nations, with a Gini Index of 48.2. Carlos Slim and eight other international fat cats now have more wealth than half the world’s population.

Contemporary Mexico

Yet today Mexico as a nation is rich in many ways.

In terms of biodiversity, Mexico is way under-recognized. Mexico ranks fourth or fifth in the world, scoring high for the number of reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants. The much more celebrated Costa Rica in comparison doesn’t make the top ten in any of these categories, although it has a far better public relations apparatus. Mexico encompasses vast rainforests, dry forests, mountains, deserts, and the second largest coral reef in the world.

In terms of conservation, Mexico has been a world leader in the protection of whales. Commercial whaling was banned in 1954. In contrast, the last US whaling station in the San Francisco Bay was closed in 1971, followed the next year by passage of the Mammal Protection Act. The world’s first whale refuge was established in 1972 by the Mexican government. In 2002, Mexico again exercised world leadership in designating all its territorial waters and Economic Exclusion Zones as whale refuges.

Culinarily, Mexico’s cocina is considered among the great cuisines of the world; a lot more than taco trucks and cheap burrito stands. Amongst Mexico’s contributions to the world’s larder are avocado, chocolate, guava, tomato, vanilla, many varieties of beans and chiles, and most notably corn, which is now the world’s most important staple food.

Mexico has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the hemisphere. The three most influential modern muralists are the Mexicans Diego RiveraJosé Clemente Orozco, and David Siqueiros.

With 7.6 billion bbl of proven reserves, Mexico is a major crude oil producer. Ranking 12th in the world, it outproduces Nigeria, Qatar, and Libya.

Mexico’s economy ranks 11th in the world, placing it second in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico’s GDP is greater than that of Italy or Spain and just below France and the UK, making it one of the world’s economic powerhouses.

The 2018 Election

Left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador ran for the Mexican presidency on July 1. Having broken from the PRD, this third run was the charm as he won decisively. Morena, his newly formed party, swept the national and state legislatures.

Mayor-elect of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, is also part of the winning coalition. She is the first woman and first Jew to be elected to the post. She is a scientist and was a joint winner of the 2007 Noble Peace Prize as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

After decades of right-wing governments in Mexico, López Obrador is being sworn in on December 1. The popular sectors in Mexico are expectant that corruption, inequality, and other long festering economic injustices will be addressed.

Trump Trade Revealed: Another Rigged Corporate Deal

Since the Clinton era, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was created, global trade has been written by and for big corporations at the expense of people’s health, worker’s rights and the environment. Trump Trade – through the renegotiation of NAFTA – continues that approach.

In some areas, people might argue the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) makes improvements over NAFTA, although many details are still being withheld. From what we do know, overall, it is a step backward for people and planet. And it undermines the US’ relationship with Canada and Mexico, as Geoffrey Getz of the neo-liberal Brooking’s Institution writes, “Trump’s aggressive, threatening approach succeeded in eliciting modest concessions from two of its closest trading partners.”

Trump is claiming a political victory merely by reaching an agreement, but it is not a victory for people or planet, as will be described below. Trump Trade should be rejected. If we are to achieve a new model of trade that protects the environment, workers and democracy, we need to demonstrate that rigged corporate trade will be rejected every time it is brought forward. The time to organize to stop this agreement is now.

Energy and the Environment

Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) because a mass social movement made it unacceptable and it could not pass in Congress. Some of the provisions in the TPP are included in the USMCA.

Like the TPP, the USMCA contains polluter-friendly non-binding terms on the environment; e.g., the text “recognizes that air pollution is a serious threat to public health,” but includes no single binding rule to reduce air pollution.

The Sierra Club reports the USMCA takes a significant step backward from environmental protections included in the last four trade deals by failing to reinforce a standard set of seven Multilateral Environmental Agreements that protect everything from wetlands to sea turtles. The absence of environmental enforcement continues the failed corporate trade of the Clinton-Obama eras.

Trade agreements could be designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change is not even mentioned in the USMCA. Greenhouse gas emissions will increase. The Sierra Club reports the deal’s lack of binding environmental standards allows corporations to evade US environmental laws by shifting jobs and toxic pollution to Mexico where environmental policies are weaker. It reinforces the US’ status as the world’s largest outsourcer of climate pollution.

Some keys to preventing greenhouse gas emissions are ‘Buy American’ and ‘Buy Local’ laws that provide incentives for locally-produced goods. The USMCA negates those laws, requiring that industries based in Canada and Mexico be given equal access to US government contracts.

The USMCA exempts oil and gas corporations that have, or may have, government contracts for offshore drilling, fracking, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, or other polluting activities from reforms to Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. These intensely polluting corporations would be allowed to challenge environmental protections in rigged corporate trade tribunals.

Trump Trade preserves a NAFTA rule that prevents the US government from determining whether gas exports to Mexico are in the public interest. This creates an automatic gas export guarantee, which will increase fracking, expand cross-border gas pipelines, and increase dependency on Mexican climate-polluting gas.

The USMCA gives corporations extra opportunities to challenge proposed regulations before they are final, and to repeal existing regulations. This makes it harder to put in place environmental regulations or rollback the pro-polluting regulations of the Trump era.

Food and Water Watch summarizes:

The energy provisions will encourage more pipelines and exports of natural gas and oil that would further expand fracking in the United States and Mexico. The text also provides new avenues for polluters to challenge and try and roll back proposed environmental safeguards, cementing Trump’s pro-polluter agenda in the trade deal.

Food and Health

The USMCA undermines food safety and health by making it more difficult to regulate and inspect foods. It limits inspections and allows food that fails to meet US safety standards to be imported. Food and Water Watch states that it requires the US to “accept imports from Mexico with less scrutiny than from other countries. The deal even creates new ways for Canada and Mexico to second-guess US border inspectors that halt suspicious food shipments, which would have a dangerously chilling effect on food safety enforcement.”

USMCA does not require Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL), nor dolphin-safe labeling and makes GMO labeling more difficult. It uses the requirement that food labels reflect ‘sound science’ to prevent accurate labeling.

USMCA serves Monsanto and other giant agro-chemical corporations by allowing unregulated GMOs, rolling back Mexico’s regulation of GMOs, and letting chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow keep data on the safety of their pesticides secret for 10 years. USMCA is designed for agribusiness, not family farmers and consumers.

Like the TPP, the USMCA increases the cost of pharmaceutical drugs through intellectual property protections that go “significantly beyond” NAFTA. USMCA gives pharmaceutical companies at minimum 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs and protects US-based drug companies from generic competition, driving up the price of medicine at home and abroad.

Worker Rights and Jobs

The Labor Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Trade Negotiations (LAC) explained they do not oppose trade, but, “We oppose a set of rules made largely by and for global corporations that reward greed and irresponsibility at the expense of hardworking families across the globe.” They describe the USMCA as moving backwards from the original NAFTA in many areas important to working families:

including with respect to ‘Good Regulatory Practices’ (code for using this trade agreement to attack important consumer, health, safety, and environmental protections), Financial Services (providing new tools for Wall Street to attack efforts to rein in its continuing abuses), and affordable medicines (extending monopolies for brand name pharmaceuticals at the expense of affordability).

Similar to the environment sections, the labor sections do not provide enforcement mechanisms. Citizen’s Trade Campaign writes:

“There is a ground breaking labor annex that could help eliminate Mexican protection contracts and boost labor rights there — but only if currently absent enforcement mechanisms are added.”

As the Labor Advisory Committee states, “Unenforced rules are not worth the paper they are written on.”

Summarizing the impact of USMCA, Citizen’s Trade Campaign states:

Mexican workers will continue to be horribly exploited, American jobs will continue to be outsourced, the environment will continue to be degraded and the wages for workers in all three NAFTA countries will continue to decline.”

Corporate Trade Tribunals

A major area of concern has been ISDS, trade tribunals where corporations can sue governments if new laws or regulations undermine their profits. ISDS empowers corporations to attack environmental and health laws in trade tribunals made up of three corporate lawyers and receive monetary judgments worth billions from tax dollars. The USMCA reduces but does not eliminate the unjustifiable and indefensible ISDS settlement mechanism, which privileges foreign investors over communities regarding access to justice.

After three years, ISDS would be eliminated with Canada and dramatically scaled back with Mexico with some unacceptable exceptions. After that, US and Canadian investors would use domestic courts or administrative bodies to settle investment disputes with another government. Are there workarounds to this ISDS reform that protect investors; e.g., will domestic courts seize assets within their country to repay investors, as a US court did for a Canadian mining company this year?

Regarding Mexico, the new process is designed to protect oil and gas industry investors from the privatization of Mexico’s oil and gas sector. Global Trade Watch writes, “several additional sectors were added, including railways and infrastructure. . . followed by an open-ended list, which could provide problematic flexibility for investors to argue that their investments qualify.” In other words, what looks like ISDS reform contains a giant loophole for corporations to continue to sue governments.

Under NAFTA, corporations can receive exorbitant awards for “expected lost profits.” Under USMCA, investors can only be compensated for losses that they can prove on the “basis of satisfactory evidence and that is not inherently speculative.” How this is interpreted is up to the courts.

USMCA Continues US Imperialism and Corporatism

Popular movements in Mexico urge the incoming government to reject USMCA in an Open Letter To Andrés Manuel López Obrador And The Legislators Of MORENA. They decry the secret nature of the negotiation and the agreement as an attack on Mexico’s sovereignty. They argue the agreement will “further open up our economy for the sole benefit of the large U.S. transnational corporations, with an even greater subordination of our government to the dictates of U.S. foreign policy and its measures of internal security and migration.”

The letter describes the election of MORENA and Obrador as the people voting “to expel the oligarchy that has governed us, along with their paid servants.” The incoming government was given a clear mandate that includes rejecting corporate trade agreements. To create the transformation promised in the election requires Mexico to have full control of its resources and wealth to ensure the well-being of the population, with full rights and liberties. They see rejection of USMCA as a “first step toward reclaiming our nation.”

They urge incoming President Obrador to see this as part of the “mafia of power” that he ran against. They describe how Trump pressured the weakest negotiator, Mexico, with the right wing Peña Nieto administration, and used that to threaten Canada with exclusion and 25% tariffs if they did not agree.

Roger Jordan writes, the new agreement is an act of corporate imperialism by the United States:

Under the new deal, both Mexico, a country historically oppressed by US imperialism, and Canada, a lesser imperialist power that has long been a key US ally, made significant concessions in the face of US demands that the continental pact be refashioned to make it an even more explicit US-led protectionist trade bloc.

As the US struggles to retain power as a global empire, UMCA shows that “through ‘America First’ economic nationalism and the ruthless assertion of its interests against ostensible allies and rivals alike,” it will do what it must “to prevail in the struggle for markets and profits.”

Just as the TPP was President Obama’s attempt at economic domination of Asia, USMCA is part of President Trump’s economic war against China, which has already included “tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.” Jordan explains how USMCA sent a message to China, writing:

It grants the US effective veto power over any attempt by Canada or Mexico to negotiate a free trade pact with a ‘non-market economy,’ a clear reference to China. This includes the right to transform USMCA into a bilateral agreement, excluding the third member if it has ratified such a free trade deal.

Stop Corporate Trade

There is still time to stop USMCA. Leaders are expected to sign the deal on December 1 at the G-20 meeting. Then President Trump has 60 days to report to Congress on changes to US law that are required by the agreement. Within 105 days of the agreement being signed, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) must complete a study of the agreement’s economic impact. Congress will have to pass legislation to implement USMCA.  After Congress receives the final bill from the president, it has 90 days of being in session to act on it under Fast Track rules. It is unlikely that all this can be accomplished before the 2019 legislative session.

Now that we know more about the contents of the new NAFTA, we need to mobilize to stop its ratification and implementation by Congress. If we are to win a new model of trade that raises the bar on protection of workers, the environment and democracy, we must show, as we did with the TPP, that rigged corporate trade will be stopped by a popular movement.

Trump Threatens WTO Exit

Transcript: PressTV Skype Interview with Peter Koenig
31 August 2018

Introduction

U-S President, Donald Trump, has threatened to withdraw from the World Trade Organization.

Trump, in an interview with Bloomberg News, said he will pull out from the organization if it “does not shape up”. The U-S president warned that he could even take action against the WTO. Trump has complained that the US is being treated unfairly in global trade and has blamed the World Trade Organization for allowing it to happen. Regarding tariffs, Trump said he will enact import duties on 200-billion dollars-worth of Chinese goods as early as next week. Following his remarks, Asian stock markets dropped and partially erased gains made in this week’s global rally. Trump has ignited a global trade war by slapping sharp tariffs on goods from the EU, Canada, Mexico, and China.

PressTV: What is your take on this?

Peter Koenig: Well, it looks like this latest threat to exit WTO goes into the same direction as his trade war with the EU and with China, and also with the new NAFTA Agreement – which so far was negotiated only with Mexico and does not include Canada; it eventually would have another name.

The new trade agreement with Mexico was negotiated like all trade agreements with the US, behind closed doors. Canada was invited to also join, but as far as I know, no decision has been taken yet. At the outset it looks like the new “draft” agreement with Mexico is worse than the original – with all the rights and benefits going to big US corporations.

In the case of Mexico, it is really only a “draft”; nothing has been accepted yet. It will be subject to Mexican approval once the new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador is sworn-in in December 2018.

What Trump is doing – or attempting to do – with tariffs and with sanctions is dividing the world, breaking up alliances; i.e.. trade alliances in the case of WTO. It’s the old rule: “Divide to Conquer” – and conquer in this case means that when alliances like WTO, in the creation of which – by the way – the US and the EU were instrumental, are broken up, the US will engage in bilateral agreements with individual nations, like in the case of the “new NAFTA”, negotiating with Mexico alone, dictating her terms to weaker nations. If Canada will be ready again for a NAFTA-like agreement, the process will be similar, with Washington in the driver’s seat.

What transpires from these negotiations, or tariff impositions – like China and the EU, or even the reneging of the Iran Nuclear Deal – is Make America Great Again, meaning really American Corporatism, not the people.

New bilateral trade deals will continue to allow bilateral outsourcing to cheap labor countries, for example, between the US and Mexico, and the export of highly subsidized US goods. In the case of agriculture, NAFTA killed hundreds of thousands of small farming businesses in Mexico which was one of the key reasons for the massive increase of illegal migration to the US.

This will hardly be different in a new agreement. That’s why nothing is done yet. The progressive new President, López Obrador, may not easily submit to a flagrant one-sided agreement.

The case of tariffs on China for 200 billion worth of merchandise – has a different purpose, namely, to degrade the value of the Chinese currency, the Yuan, which is emerging rapidly as one of the world’s foremost reserve currencies, to the detriment of the US dollar. The Trump move is meant to discourage countries to adopt the Yuan among their reserve currencies. Some success was indeed registered by Trump’s announcement – the Asian markets dropped drastically wiping out much of the gains made during last week’s rally. This, however, will be short-lived, as investors realize the hot air behind the threat and that these tariffs will really make hardly a dent in China’s economy which is dominating the Asian market and doesn’t really depend on exports to the US.

If the US would indeed exit WTO – which is by no means sure, since Trump likes to play god, threatening, fearmongering – and then negotiate under conditions of intimidation and coercion – so, if the US would actually get out of WTO, they – the US – might set themselves up as sort of a competitor to WTO, negotiating individual bilateral deals with nations, especially weaker ones. They would no longer be under the oversight of WTO – and as with the International Court of Justice – to which the US does not belong – complaining would be meaningless.

But we are not there yet.

Rocking the G7: Trump Stomps His Allies

Disruption, disturbance, eruption, the words crowning the presidency of Donald J. Trump, who has effectively demonstrated an idea made famous by Nazi doodler of law and political theorist Carl Schmitt: politics is defined, not by identifying with friends in cosy harmony but with enemies in constant tension.

There are many ways that Trump might be seen as a creature of Schmittian reaction.  Alliances may well be lauded as good (the diplomat’s clichés of “eternal friendship”, “special bonds” and the treacly covering that comes with it), but then again, potential adversaries can also be considered in accommodating fashion.  In every enduring friendship between states is a potential enemy in wait, a dormant instinct that, given certain circumstances, might awake.  In every alliance, a potential shift might undermine, if not threaten, the national interest.

In short, the current US president likes the bruising, the bullying and the cajoling in the abstract name of US self-interest. Forget the distinctions and the similarities.  There are no values in any shared sense.  There is only his road.

The press conference concluding the summit with Kim Jong-un on Sentosa Island provided the platform for Trump to round on his supposed allies even as he praised Little Rocket Man as his newly made friend, Chairman Kim, no less.  The spectacle was terrifying for groupies of the US empire, those who have praised the virtues of alliances and bonds with Washington as necessary for the Pax Americana.  Before them, the spectacle of US hegemony was being challenged with a brazen confidence. The Chairman seemed to be getting what he wanted, even if it all seemed a touch vague.

As the Kim-Trump show unfolded, the rubble at the G7 seemed to be growing, a sentiment captured by the satirical Borowitz Report in The New Yorker.  The meeting preceding the gathering in Singapore had put many a nose out of joint.  After leaving the Quebec summit, Trump got his fingers busy by tweeting that he had asked US representatives not to endorse the customary joint communiqué from the G7 leaders calling for “free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade” over the devil of protectionism.

The cooling towards Canada’s Justin Trudeau was a case in point, mixed with the usual air of berating condescension and sulkiness.  Much of it had arisen because of a disagreement on whether a sunset clause would find its way into any renegotiated trade agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States.  Trump’s own version of reality was that negotiators were “pretty close on the sunset provision”.  Trudeau differed on such a reading, wanting nothing of the sort.  The bad blood was taking time to dry.

“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our US farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our US reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at tariffs on automobiles flooding the US market!”

In Singapore itself, Trump wished to add some flesh to the remarks, getting a few jocular asides in.  “When I got onto the plane,” considered Trump, “I think that Justin probably didn’t know that Air Force One has about 20 televisions, and I see the television.  And he’s giving a news conference about how he will not be pushed around by the United States.  And I say, push him around?  We just shook hands.  It was very friendly.”

Then came that picture, poured over by aroused pundits and eager commentators, showing Trump sitting down like a bemused, bright coloured Buddha, seemingly defiant, with Germany’s Angela Merkel leaning across with grave school teacher disapproval. “In fact,” he explained, “the picture with Angela Merkel, who I get along with very well, where I’m sitting there like this, that picture was we’re waiting for the document because I wanted to see the final document as changed by the changes that I requested.”

For Trump, the visuals are nigh everything, and this titillates the pundits he lures like starving waifs to a banquet.  Academics are also getting on board, being brought into Trumpland’s sordid undergrowth.  “Critics of President Trump say this is President Trump isolated,” suggested Dan Nexon of Georgetown University on the G7 snap, “so it feeds into the pre-existing narrative.”  But then came the other side, those supporters who considered the show “a sign of American strength, status and position in the dominance hierarchy.”

Others have also fallen for tissue-like substance and liberal readings, suggesting that Trump is seducing those who should know better.  “The symbolic meaning of a 13-second handshake in the visual form is the establishment of a physical and therefore a personal bond between the two leaders,” came the distinctly unscientific observation of political science professor Bruce Miroff.  The G7 meeting did the opposite of the Sentosa Island summit, suggesting a spectacle “of alienation, opposition and even international condemnation of Trump.”

Any amount of time might be spent on such performances, but Trump, for all the displays, remains heartily consistent in what superficially seems to be jolting anarchy.  On the issue of mistrusting, badgering, even punishing allies economically, he has remained true to his word, carrying through attitudes nursed since the 1980s. “I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country,” he claimed in his 1990 Playboy interview should he ever become President, “and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again.”  And, prophetically, he promised a Schmitt-inspired attitude: don’t “trust our allies” and “perfect” that “huge military arsenal”.

Dangerous Liaison: Corporate Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset

Food and agriculture across the world is in crisis. Food is becoming denutrified and unhealthy and diets less diverse. There is a loss of biodiversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water sources polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming.

A minority of the global population has access to so much food that it can afford to waste much of it, while food insecurity has become a fact of life for hundreds of millions. This crisis stems from food and agriculture being wedded to power structures that serve the interests of the powerful global agribusiness corporations.

Over the last 60 years, agriculture has become increasingly industrialised, globalised and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).

This has resulted in food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on (US) agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the Global South mirror food surpluses in the North, based on a ‘stuffed and starved’ strategy.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes related to debt repayment as occurred in Africa (as a continent Africa has been transformed from a net exporter to a net importer of food), bilateral trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture.

Integral to all of this has been the imposition of the ‘Green Revolution’. Farmers were encouraged to purchase hybrid seeds from corporations that were dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to boost yields. They required loans to purchase these corporate inputs and governments borrowed to finance irrigation and dam building projects for what was a water-intensive model.

While the Green Revolution was sold to governments and farmers on the basis it would increase productivity and earnings and would be more efficient, we now have nations and farmers incorporated into a system of international capitalism based on dependency, deregulated and manipulated commodity markets, unfair subsidies and inherent food insecurity.

As part of a wider ‘development’ plan for the Global South, millions of farmers have been forced out of agriculture to become cheap factory labour (for outsourced units from the West) or, as is increasingly the case, unemployed or underemployed slum dwellers.

In India, under the banner of a bogus notion of ‘development’, farmers are being whipped into subservience on behalf of global capital: they find themselves steadily squeezed out of farming due to falling incomes, the impact of cheap imports and policies deliberately designed to run down smallholder agriculture for the benefit of global agribusiness corporations.

Aside from the geopolitical shift in favour of the Western nations resulting from the programmed destruction of traditional agriculture across the world, the Green Revolution has adversely impacted the nature of food, soil, human health and the environment.

Sold on the premise of increased yields, improved food security and better farm incomes, the benefits of the Green Revolution have been overstated. And the often stated ‘humanitarian’ intent and outcome (‘millions of lives saved’) has had more to do with PR and cold commercial interest.

However, even when the Green Revolution did increase yields (or similarly, if claims about GMO agriculture – the second coming of the Green Revolution – improving output is to be accepted at face value), Canadian environmentalist Jodi Koberinski says pertinent questions need to be asked: what has been the cost of any increased yield of commodities in terms of local food security and local caloric production, nutrition per acre, water tables, soil structure and new pests and disease pressures?

We may also ask what the effects on rural communities and economies have been; on birds, insects and biodiversity in general; on the climate as a result of new technologies, inputs or changes to farming practices; and what has been the effects of shifting towards globalised production chains, not least in terms of transportation and fossil fuel consumption.

Moreover, if the Green Revolution found farmers in the Global South increasingly at the mercy of a US-centric system of trade and agriculture, at home they were also having to fit in with development policies that pushed for urbanisation and had to cater to the needs of a distant and expanding urban population whose food requirements were different to local rural-based communities. In addition to a focus on export-oriented farming, crops were also being grown for the urban market, regardless of farmers’ needs or the dietary requirements of local rural markets.

Destroying indigenous systems

In an open letter written in 2006 to policy makers in India, farmer and campaigner Bhaskar Save offered answers to some of these questions. He argued that the actual reason for pushing the Green Revolution was the much narrower goal of increasing marketable surplus of a few relatively less perishable cereals to fuel the urban-industrial expansion favoured by the government and a few industries at the expense of a more diverse and nutrient-sufficient agriculture, which rural folk – who make up the bulk of India’s population – had long benefited from.

Before, Indian farmers had been largely self-sufficient and even produced surpluses, though generally smaller quantities of many more items. These, particularly perishables, were tougher to supply urban markets. And so, the nation’s farmers were steered to grow chemically cultivated monocultures of a few cash-crops like wheat, rice, or sugar, rather than their traditional polycultures that needed no purchased inputs.

Tall, indigenous varieties of grain provided more biomass, shaded the soil from the sun and protected against its erosion under heavy monsoon rains, but these were replaced with dwarf varieties, which led to more vigorous growth of weeds and were able to compete successfully with the new stunted crops for sunlight.

As a result, the farmer had to spend more labour and money in weeding, or spraying herbicides. Furthermore, straw growth with the dwarf grain crops fell and much less organic matter was locally available to recycle the fertility of the soil, leading to an artificial need for externally procured inputs. Inevitably, the farmers resorted to use more chemicals and soil degradation and erosion set in.

The exotic varieties, grown with chemical fertilisers, were more susceptible to ‘pests and diseases’, leading to yet more chemicals being poured. But the attacked insect species developed resistance and reproduced prolifically. Their predators – spiders, frogs, etc. – that fed on these insects and controlled their populations were exterminated. So were many beneficial species like the earthworms and bees.

Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, the soil is alive and porous and at least half of the rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata.

A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers or groundwater tables. The living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs. Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

While the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

More than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. For example, one acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities.

From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. Save argued this could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

If Bhaskar Save helped open people’s eyes to what has happened on the farm, to farmers and to ecology in India, a 2015 report by GRAIN provides an overview of how US agribusiness has hijacked an entire nation’s food and agriculture under the banner of ‘free trade’ to the detriment of the environment, health and farmers.

In 2012, Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition. Between 1988 and 2012, the proportion of overweight women between the ages of 20 and 49 increased from 25% to 35% and the number of obese women in this age group increased from 9% to 37%.

Some 29% of Mexican children between the ages of 5 and 11 were found to be overweight, as were 35% of youngsters between 11 and 19, while one in 10 school age children suffered from anemia. The Mexican Diabetes Federation says that more than 7% of the Mexican population has diabetes. Diabetes is now the third most common cause of death in Mexico, directly or indirectly.

The various free trade agreements that Mexico has signed over the past two decades have had a profound impact on the country’s food system and people’s health. After his mission to Mexico in 2012, the then Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concluded that the trade policies in place favour greater reliance on heavily processed and refined foods with a long shelf life rather than on the consumption of fresh and more perishable foods, particularly fruit and vegetables.

He added that the overweight and obesity emergency that Mexico is facing could have been avoided, or largely mitigated, if the health concerns linked to shifting diets had been integrated into the design of those policies.

The North America Free Trade Agreement led to the direct investment in food processing and a change in the retail structure (notably the advent of supermarkets and convenience stores) as well as the emergence of global agribusiness and transnational food companies in Mexico.

The country has witnessed an explosive growth of chain supermarkets, discounters and convenience stores. Local small-scale vendors have been replaced by corporate retailers that offer the processed food companies greater opportunities for sales and profits. Oxxo (owned by Coca-cola subsidiary Femsa) tripled its stores to 3,500 between 1999 and 2004. It was scheduled to open its 14,000th store sometime during 2015.

In Mexico, the loss of food sovereignty has induced catastrophic changes in the nation’s diet and has had dire consequences for agricultural workers who lost their jobs and for the nation in general. Those who have benefited include US food and agribusiness interests, drug cartels and US banks and arms manufacturers.

More of the same: a bogus ‘solution’

Transnational agribusiness has lobbied for, directed and profited from the very policies that have caused much of the above. And what we now see is these corporations (and their supporters) espousing cynical and fake concern for the plight of the poor and hungry.

GMO patented seeds represent the final stranglehold of transnational agribusiness over the control of agriculture and food. The misrepresentation of the plight of the indigenous edible oils sector in India encapsulates the duplicity at work surrounding the GM project.

After trade rules and cheap imports conspired to destroy farmers and the jobs of people involved in local food processing activities for the benefit of global agribusiness, including commodity trading and food processor companies ADM and Cargill, there is now a campaign to force GM into India on the basis that Indian agriculture is unproductive and thus the country has to rely on imports. This conveniently ignores the fact that prior to neoliberal trade rules in the mid-1990s, India was almost self-sufficient in edible oils.

In collusion with the Gates Foundation, corporate interests are also seeking to secure full spectrum dominance throughout much of Africa as well. Western seed, fertiliser and pesticide manufacturers and dealers and food processing companies are in the process of securing changes to legislation and are building up logistics and infrastructure to allow them to recast food and farming in their own images.

Today, governments continue to collude with big agribusiness corporations. These companies are being allowed to shape government policy by being granted a strategic role in trade negotiations and are increasingly framing the policy/knowledge agenda by funding and determining the nature of research carried out in public universities and institutes.

As Bhaskar Save wrote about India:

This country has more than 150 agricultural universities. But every year, each churns out several hundred ‘educated’ unemployables, trained only in misguiding farmers and spreading ecological degradation. In all the six years a student spends for an M.Sc. in agriculture, the only goal is short-term – and narrowly perceived – ‘productivity’. For this, the farmer is urged to do and buy a hundred things. But not a thought is spared to what a farmer must never do so that the land remains unharmed for future generations and other creatures. It is time our people and government wake up to the realisation that this industry-driven way of farming – promoted by our institutions – is inherently criminal and suicidal!

Save is referring to the 300,000-plus farmer suicides that have taken place in India over the past two decades due to economic distress resulting from debt, a shift to (GM)cash crops and economic ‘liberalisation’ (see this report about a peer-reviewed study, which directly links suicides to GM cotton).

The current global system of chemical-industrial agriculture, World Trade Organisation rules and bilateral trade agreements that agritech companies helped draw up are a major cause of food insecurity and environmental destruction. The system is not set up to ‘feed the world’ despite the proclamations of its supporters.

However, this model has become central to the dominant notion of ‘development’ in the Global South: unnecessary urbanisation, the commercialisation and emptying out of the countryside at the behest of the World Bank, the displacement of existing systems of food and agricultural production with one dominated by Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and the like and a one-dimensional pursuit of GDP growth as a measure of ‘progress’ with little concern for the costs and implications – mirroring the narrow, reductionist ‘output-yield’ paradigm of industrial agriculture itself.

Agroecology offers a genuine solution

Across the world, we are seeing farmers and communities pushing back and resisting the corporate takeover of seeds, soils, land, water and food. And we are also witnessing inspiring stories about the successes of agroecology.

Reflecting what Bhaskar Save achieved on his farm in Gujarat, agroecology combines sound ecological management, including minimising the use of toxic inputs, by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging natural solutions to manage pests and disease, with an approach that upholds and secures farmers’ livelihoods.

Agroecology is based on scientific research grounded in the natural sciences but marries this with farmer-generated knowledge and grassroots participation that challenges top-down approaches to research and policy making. However, it can also involve moving beyond the dynamics of the farm itself to become part of a wider agenda, which addresses the broader political and economic issues that impact farmers and agriculture (see this description of the various modes of thought that underpin agroecolgy).

Jodi Koberisnki’s nod to ‘systems thinking’ lends credence to agroecology, which recognises the potential of agriculture to properly address concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as social, ecological and health issues. In this respect, agroecology is a refreshing point of departure from the reductionist approach to farming which emphasises securing maximum yield and corporate profit to the detriment of all else.

Wei Zhang – an economist focusing on ecosystem services, agriculture and the environment – says:

that ‘worldview’ is important to how you conceptualise issues and develop or choose tools to address those issues. Using systems thinking requires a shift in fundamental beliefs and assumptions that constitute our worldviews. These are the intellectual and moral foundations for the way we view and interpret reality, as well as our beliefs about the nature of knowledge and the processes of knowing. Systems thinking can help by changing the dominant mindset and by addressing resistance to more integrated approaches.

Agroecology requires that shift in fundamental beliefs.

A few years ago, the Oakland Institute released a report on 33 case studies which highlighted the success of agroecological agriculture across Africa in the face of climate change, hunger and poverty. The studies provide facts and figures on how agricultural transformation can yield immense economic, social, and food security benefits while ensuring climate justice and restoring soils and the environment.

The research highlights the multiple benefits of agroecology, including affordable and sustainable ways to boost agricultural yields while increasing farmers’ incomes, food security and crop resilience.

The report described how agroecology uses a wide variety of techniques and practices, including plant diversification, intercropping, the application of mulch, manure or compost for soil fertility, the natural management of pests and diseases, agroforestry and the construction of water management structures.

There are many other examples of successful agroecology and of farmers abandoning Green Revolution thought and practices to embrace it (see this report about El Salvador and this interview from South India).

In a recent interview appearing on the Farming Matters website, Million Belay sheds light on how agroecological agriculture is the best model of agriculture for Africa. Belay explains that one of the greatest agroecological initiatives started in 1995 in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, and continues today. It began with four villages and after good results, it was scaled up to 83 villages and finally to the whole Tigray Region. It was recommended to the Ministry of Agriculture to be scaled up at the national level. The project has now expanded to six regions of Ethiopia.

The fact that it was supported with research by the Ethiopian University at Mekele has proved to be critical in convincing decision makers that these practices work and are better for both the farmers and the land.

Bellay describes another agroecological practice that spread widely across East Africa – ‘push-pull’. This method manages pests through selective intercropping with important fodder species and wild grass relatives, in which pests are simultaneously repelled – or pushed – from the system by one or more plants and are attracted to – or pulled – toward ‘decoy’ plants, thereby protecting the crop from infestation. Push-pull has proved to be very effective at biologically controlling pest populations in fields, reducing significantly the need for pesticides, increasing production, especially for maize, increasing income to farmers, increasing fodder for animals and, due to that, increasing milk production, and improving soil fertility.

By 2015, the number of farmers using this practice increased to 95,000. One of the bedrocks of success is the incorporation of cutting edge science through the collaboration of the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and the Rothamsted Research Station (UK) who have worked in East Africa for the last 15 years on an effective ecologically-based pest management solution for stem borers and striga.

But agroecology should not just be regarded as something for the Global South. Food First Executive Director Eric Holtz-Gimenez argues that it offers concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems that move beyond (but which are linked to) agriculture. In doing so, it challenges – and offers alternatives to – prevailing moribund doctrinaire economics and the outright plunder of neoliberalism.

The scaling up of agroecology can tackle hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation and climate change. By creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work, it can also address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by rich countries and the removal of rural populations elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out the outsourced jobs.

Thick legitimacy

Various official reports have argued that to feed the hungry and secure food security in low income regions we need to support small farms and diverse, sustainable agroecological methods of farming and strengthen local food economies (see this report on the right to food and this (IAASTD) peer-reviewed report).

Olivier De Schutter says:

To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available. Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live, especially in unfavorable environments.

De Schutter indicates that small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by using ecological methods. Based on an extensive review of scientific literature, the study he was involved in calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as a way to boost food production and improve the situation of the poorest. The report calls on states to implement a fundamental shift towards agroecology.

The success stories of agroecology indicate what can be achieved when development is placed firmly in the hands of farmers themselves. The expansion of agroecological practices can generate a rapid, fair and inclusive development that can be sustained for future generations. This model entails policies and activities that come from the bottom-up and which the state can then invest in and facilitate.

A decentralised system of food production with access to local markets supported by proper roads, storage and other infrastructure must take priority ahead of exploitative international markets dominated and designed to serve the needs of global capital.

It has long been established that small farms are per area more productive than large-scale industrial farms and create a more resilient, diverse food system. If policy makers were to prioritise this sector and promote agroecology to the extent Green Revolution practices and technology have been pushed, many of the problems surrounding poverty, unemployment and urban migration could be solved.

However, the biggest challenge for upscaling agroecology lies in the push by big business for commercial agriculture and attempts to marginalise agroecology. Unfortunately, global agribusiness concerns have secured the status of ‘thick legitimacy’ based on an intricate web of processes successfully spun in the scientific, policy and political arenas. This allows its model to persist and appear normal and necessary. This perceived legitimacy derives from the lobbying, financial clout and political power of agribusiness conglomerates which set out to capture or shape government departments, public institutions, the agricultural research paradigm, international trade and the cultural narrative concerning food and agriculture.

Critics of this system are immediately attacked for being anti-science, for forwarding unrealistic alternatives, for endangering the lives of billions who would starve to death and for being driven by ideology and emotion. Strategically placed industry mouthpieces like Jon Entine, Owen Paterson and Henry Miller perpetuate such messages in the media and influential industry-backed bodies like the Science Media Centre feed journalists with agribusiness spin.

When some people hurl such accusations, it might not just simply be spin: it may be the case that some actually believe critics are guilty of such things. If that is so, it is a result of their failure to think along the lines Zhang outlines: they are limited by their own reductionist logic and worldview.

The worrying thing is that too many policy makers may also be blinded by such a view because so many governments are working hand-in-glove with the industry to promote its technology over the heads of the public. A network of scientific bodies and regulatory agencies that supposedly serve the public interest have been subverted by the presence of key figures with industry links, while the powerful industry lobby hold sway over bureaucrats and politicians.

The World Bank is pushing a corporate-led industrial model of agriculture via its ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ strategy and corporations are given free rein to write policies. Monsanto played a key part in drafting the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to create seed monopolies and the global food processing industry had a leading role in shaping the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (see this). From Codex, the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture aimed at restructuring Indian agriculture to the currently on-hold US-EU trade deal (TTIP), the powerful agribusiness lobby has secured privileged access to policy makers to ensure its model of agriculture prevails.

The ultimate coup d’etat by the transnational agribusiness conglomerates is that government officials, scientists and journalists take as given that profit-driven Fortune 500 corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. These corporations have convinced so many that they have the ultimate legitimacy to own and control what is essentially humanity’s common wealth. There is the premise that water, food, soil, land and agriculture should be handed over to powerful transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

Corporations which promote industrial agriculture have embedded themselves deeply within the policy-making machinery on both national and international levels. From the overall narrative that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world to providing lavish research grants and the capture of important policy-making institutions, global agribusiness has secured a perceived thick legitimacy within policymakers’ mindsets and mainstream discourse.

It gets to the point whereby if you – as a key figure in a public body – believe that your institution and society’s main institutions and the influence of corporations on them are basically sound, then you are probably not going to challenge or question the overall status quo. Once you have indicated an allegiance to these institutions and corporate power, it is ‘irrational’ to oppose their policies, the very ones you are there to promote. And it becomes quite ‘natural’ to oppose any research findings, analyses or questions which question the system and by implication your role in it.

But how long can the ‘legitimacy’ of a system persist given that it merely produces bad food, creates food deficit regions globally,  destroys health, impoverishes small farms, leads to less diverse diets and less nutritious food, is less productive than small farms, creates water scarcity, destroys soil and fuels/benefits from World Bank/WTO policies that create dependency and debt.

The more that agroecology is seen to work, the more policy makers see the failings of the current system and the more they become open to holistic approaches to agriculture – as practitioners and supporters of agroecology create their own thick legitimacy –  the more willing officials might be to give space to a model that has great potential to help deal with some of the world’s most pressing problems. It has happened to a certain extent in Ethiopia, for example. That is hopeful.

Of course, global agribusiness nor the system of capitalism it helps to uphold and benefits from are not going to disappear overnight and politicians (even governments) who oppose or challenge private capital tend to be replaced or subverted.

Powerful agribusiness corporations can only operate as they do because of a framework designed to allow them to capture governments and regulatory bodies, to use the WTO and bilateral trade deals to lever global influence, to profit on the back of US militarism (Iraq) and destabilisations (Ukraine), to exert undue influence over science and politics and to rake in enormous profits.

The World Bank’s ongoing commitment to global agribusiness and a wholly corrupt and rigged model of globalisation is a further recipe for plunder. Whether it involves Monsanto, Cargill or the type of corporate power grab of African agriculture that Bill Gates is helping to spearhead, private capital will continue to ensure this happens while hiding behind platitudes about ‘free trade’ and ‘development’.

Brazil and Indonesia are subsidising private corporations to effectively destroy the environment through their practices.  Canada and the UK are working with the GMO biotech sector to facilitate its needs. And India is facilitating the destruction of its agrarian base according to World Bank directives for the benefit of the likes of Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill.

If myths about the necessity for perpetuating the stranglehold of capitalism go unchallenged and real alternatives are not supported by mass movements across continents, agroecology will remain on the periphery.

Trump’s Trade War: Or De-Globalization?

President Trump’s bold ‘protectionist’ move of introducing import duties of 25% and 10% for steel and aluminum, respectively – and possibly more to come – may be more than just ‘populism’ and fulfilling a campaign promise. And why is the term ‘populism’ always used with a derogative slant? As if it was way below the intellect of those who deride it as addressing the thoughtless and primitive behavior by the people? Aren’t politicians supposed to work for the people? Educate them with the truth instead of ridiculing them; giving them real news instead of ‘fake news’ – and giving them jobs and decent livelihood? Is that addressing “populism”?

President Trump, or whoever directs him, may have noticed the steady decline of the American economy into a hollow war and service machine, with rising unemployment at the tune of more than 20% (though the fake statistics pretend otherwise, putting it below 5%); a country gradually choking on junk consumption, anti-Russia propaganda and a rapidly deteriorating physical infrastructure and civil society.

This unexpected protectionist decision may also be a genuine move against globalization – which, as we know, is controlled by neoliberal economics and has, in fact, nothing to do with real economics. It is sheer criminalizing of economics. It has done enormous harm to the 99.9 % and benefitted only the 0.1% (or less). “Make America Great Again” is supposed to address this fallacy. Bring production and jobs back, primarily for the domestic market and second only, for international trade, for trade that doesn’t harm the local economy. This is a recipe which would also suit many European countries – Greece is a case in point, but Spain, Italy, Ireland and even France would fall into the same category. “Local production for local markets” is indeed the model that helped rescue the US from the depression of the 30’s and Europe, in particular Germany, after WWII.

The so-called Free Trade Agreements (FTA) and multi country Trade Agreements like, NAFTA, TTIP, and TPP – the former being renegotiated and the latter two suspended – are quite different from “local production for local markets”. They all, without fault, favor US corporations’ maximizing profit objective, but not the United States local economy. Insofar Trump is right, when he says that all these trade deals have been bad for his country. They were and are a bonanza for US corporations, but indeed bad for the US national economy, because they are incentives for more and more outsourcing of production and services into low labor cost countries.

By granting corporations tax breaks and incentives to invest at home rather than in low-wage countries, and by levying import duties, President Trump is taking a decisive step – maybe willy-nilly – to rehabilitate a faltering US economy. Will it work? It might. It’s too early to say. Economy is no precise science, but rather the result of the dynamic interaction between different, at times unpredictable, elements. True economics are certainly not based on a set of blueprints; they are not black and white, as neoliberal theories would like us to believe. Real economics do not fit today’s most popular teachings of ‘modelling’ – a complex linear approach of algorithm which produces desired results for propagating neoliberal ideas – that depart from reality by a long shot. The fact of reestablishing trust in local labor may have power way beyond that of capital investments.

Trump capitalizes on this momentum and, simultaneously, may set a signal for the rest of the world to follow – and for the end of globalization. Interestingly, he said at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in January this year, that all the American partner countries should think, “Make my country great again”. Isn’t this a slap in the face of globalization?

Of course, there will be noises of ‘retaliation’ by Europe, China, Japan – so what?  Steps of retaliation may actually trigger a political rethinking of globalized WTO propagated trade. It may reveal who are the winners and losers. It may have taken 30 years to realize that the winners are an ever-smaller corporate elite, while the bedrock of national economies, local labor, is the big loser. That is precisely the direction into which the neofascist West is moving – towards selling the national economy out to corporate profits. The people are understandably unhappy.

Today’s economists are in shock whenever somebody dares to question the mainstream globalized economic models, depicting a linear right or wrong vision of the world. Remember George Bush – “you are either for us or against us”; the phrase that set the eternal war on terror in motion; the war that brought death to millions, intimidation to hundreds of millions and billions of profits to the war industry.

Yet, we were and are still indoctrinated with the neoliberal norm, which consists of open-border trade, limitless cross-border transfer of capital but very restricted transfer of labor. And worst of all, today and for the last 100 years, is our (western) dollar-based monetary system (born from the Federal Reserve Act of 1913) that shapes and manipulates the western boom–bust economy. Logic would rather dictate a reverse monetary system, where a nation’s economic output is the basis for its monetary system, not the other way around.

This monetary anomality has been driven to extremes with the US-dollar’s offspring, the euro, which has zero connection with the European economy, let alone with the economy of each member country. The western monetary system on which international trade is based is a fraud, a mere house of cards, a Ponzi scheme, the collapse of which is inevitable.

The Donald is a largely unpredictable character. As a war monger, he screams “fire and fury” at North Korea, threatening to wipe out the entire country; yet is willing to sit down to negotiate with Kim Jong-un – under certain conditions – debating whose Red Button is bigger, Kim’s or the Donald’s. At the same time, driven by Netanyahu, the same Donald has only slander and insults left for Iran, threatening the country with annihilating war and imposing more sanctions, knowing quite well that Europe, mainly France and Germany, has established billion euros worth of trade relations since the lifting of the original sanctions after the signing of the ‘nuclear deal’ in July 2015.

So, let’s not get this wrong. Trump is no panacea for the good of the world. By a very long shot. He is a loose cannon, shooting from the hips, he may have hit the target by declaring unilateral import tariffs on steel and aluminum. This may be just the beginning, a trial balloon so to speak, for more protection measures to follow. His neocolonial trained chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, can’t see the logic and quit. Trump is unmoved and stays the course. He knows these tariffs won’t affect consumer prices at home, but they may be a boost for the US rust-belt – reviving investments, including the local car industry, a key economic indicator, creating thousands of much needed jobs and reestablishing labor’s trust in Washington’s leadership – to “Make America Great Again.”

“Free Trade”: A Euphemism for “Whatever Powerful Interests Want”

“Free trade” has become a euphemism for “whatever power wants”, no matter how tangentily tied to transfering goods across international borders. In an extreme example, Ottawa recently said its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel trumps Canada’s Food and Drugs Act since accurately labelling two wines might undermine a half-century long, illegal, military occupation.

Of little connection to international trade, the North American Free Trade Agreement – and subsequent FTAs – have granted foreign corporations the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in secret tribunals for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. Over 75 cases have been brought before the Investor State Dispute Settlement section of NAFTA, which has resulted in tens of millions of dollars paid to companies impacted by Ottawa banning the export of toxic PCB wastes or the import of suspected neurotoxin gasoline additive MMT.

Strengthening this dynamic, Canada’s “free trade” deal with the European Union (CETA) empowers companies to sue municipalities if they expand public services. For instance, a municipality unhappy with private water delivery could face a suit if they tried to remunicipalize (or de-privatize) this service.

CETA, TPP, WTO and other self-described “free trade” agreements also extend patent and copyright protections (monopolies), which stifle competition, a pillar of free trade ideology. CETA’s increased patent protections are expected to drive up already high Canadian pharmaceutical drug costs by between $850 million and $1.65 billion a year.

Negotiations to “modernize NAFTA” could end up granting big pharma perks that would effectively block Canada’s ability to set up universal pharmacare. Similarly, the yet to be signed TPP strengthens patents and would increase the length of copyright in Canada from 50 to 70 years after the death of an author.

It’s little exaggeration to say politicians have come to employ the term “free trade” to mean “whatever powerful corporations want”. But, the Trudeau Liberals recently broadened the term’s definition even further. In a move to make “free trade” mean “whatever powerful interests want”, they announced that Canada’s FTA with Israel supercedes this country’s Food and Drugs Act.

After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare Israel as the country of origin for wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quoting from official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.”

In response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, CFIA quickly reversed its decision. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled.”

In other words, the government is publicly proclaming that the FTA trumps Canada’s consumer protections. But, this is little more than a pretext to avoid a conflict with B’nai B’rith, CIJA and Israeli officials, according to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Trade and Investment Research Project director Scott Sinclair. “This trade-related rationale does not stand up to scrutiny,” Sinclair writes. “The Canadian government, the CFIA and the LCBO are well within their legal and trade treaty rights to insist that products from the occupied territories be clearly labelled as such. There is nothing in the CIFTA [Canada–Israel FTA] that prevents this. The decision to reverse the CFIA’s ruling was political. The whole trade argument is a red herring, simply an excuse to provide cover for the CFIA to backtrack under pressure.”

In another commentary on the government “backtracking under pressure”, Peter Larson points out that CIFTA grants Israel an important concession that seeks to sidestep Canada’s commitments under international law. The agreement says, “unless otherwise specified, ‘territory’ means with respect to Israel the territory where its customs laws are applied”, but omits “in accordance with international law”, which is in many of Canada’s other free trade agreements. This omission seeks to allow goods produced on land occupied in contravention of the 4th Geneva Convention and Statute of Rome to benefit from CIFTA.

David Kattenburg and his lawyer Dmitri Lascaris will be challenging CFIA’s decision in court. On Monday they filed an appeal of the wine labelling and released a statement to the media.

Since I wrote about their silence on the issue the Council of Canadians and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have added their voice to those criticizing CFIA’s decision. But, I haven’t seen anything from the NDP’s trade critic.

Kattenburg and Lascaris’ court challenge offers NDP leadership candidates Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, Guy Caron and Jagmeet Singh a good opportunity to express their opposition to defining “free trade” as “whatever power wants”.