by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-trade

Jul 26 2018

Trump’s $12 billion “gold crutches” to deal with trade retaliation against US agriculture

President Trump says he will fix the retaliation damage his trade policy has caused for agriculture with $12 billion added to USDA programs.

The New York Times quote of the day:  “This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and the White House’s “plan” is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches.”  –Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska

The USDA explains that

These programs will assist agricultural producers to meet the costs of disrupted markets. This is a short-term solution to allow President Trump time to work on long-term trade deals to benefit agriculture and the entire U.S. economy.

Politico (behind paywall) quotes USDA Secretary Perdue: “”The programs we are announcing today are a firm statement that other nations cannot bully our agricultural producers to force the United States to cave in.”  It explains that the 3-part plan will:

  1. Provide direct payments to growers and producers of soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, pork and dairy.
  2. Purchase fruit, nuts, rice, beef, pork and dairy products from U.S. producers for redistribution to federal nutrition assistance programs.
  3. Put resources toward finding new markets for U.S. farmers to sell their products abroad.

Not everyone loves this idea.  Politico quotes Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):

This is becoming more and more like a Soviet-type of economy here: Commissars deciding who’s going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they’re going to sprinkle around benefits…I’m very exasperated. This is serious.

It also quotes Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) observing that the bailout does nothing to preserve market access lost as a result of the tariff policies.

Some in the ag community, they say, ‘That’s great, thank you for the help’ — except that the problem then becomes we’ve lost the market, so how do we get the market back?…That’s the question.

In general, agricultural groups view this as an inadequate short-term fix for a problem that won’t go away until Trump ends the trade war.

Former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman tweeted a link to a longer statement:

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) is introducing legislation to ensure a fairer distribution of the bailouts.  How about some trade relief for fishermen?

In the meantime, The Street reports the effect of this plan on the market: Soybean futures for November delivery settled more than 1% higher; Deere & Co. and other farm equipment stocks also went up.  CBS News also notes the rise in ag stock prices.

Analysts generally view this as a move to maintain Trump’s base of support among soy and corn producers in the lead up to the midterm elections.  It solves a short-term political problem, but does nothing to protect US agricultural markets.  See, for example, accounts from

Jun 7 2018

What does US vs. NAFTA mean for US food producers? Nothing good.

The NAFTA agreement meant that the US, Canada, and Mexico would not impose tariffs on each other’s products.

But the Trump Administration has announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Canada and Mexico.

Canada is retaliating.  Here is its list of US products subject to new tariffs.  Table 2 lists agricultural products, among them,

  • Yogurt
  • Coffee
  • Prepared meals
  • Maple sugar
  • Pizza and quiche
  • Chocolate
  • Waters
  • Whiskies

Mexico also is retaliating.  Its list (in Spanish) includes, among others,

  • Cheeses
  • Apples
  • Ham
  • Pork
  • Potatoes
  • Whisky

This means that these products will be more expensive—a lot more expensive—in Canada and Mexico and, therefore, will not sell as well.

Pork producers are particularly distressed.

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Mar 27 2018

NAFTA negotiations put front-of-package warning labels at risk

Last week, the New York Times published an article about how the US was inserting provisions in NAFTA negotiations to restrict the ability of Mexico to put warning labels—similar to those in Chile and other countries—on ultraprocessed “junk” foods.

Urged on by big American food and soft-drink companies, the Trump administration is using the trade talks with Mexico and Canada to try to limit the ability of the pact’s three members — including the United States — to warn consumers about the dangers of junk food, according to confidential documents outlining the American position.

The American stance reflects an intensifying battle among trade officials, the food industry and governments across the hemisphere. The administration’s position could help insulate American manufacturers from pressure to include more explicit labels on their products, both abroad and in the United States. But health officials worry that it would also impede international efforts to contain a growing health crisis.

In response to questions by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Dem-Texas), US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer argues that front-of-package labels are a form of protectionism.

Really?

A more compelling reason is that food companies are worried about the possible spread of front-of-package warning labels like those in Chile, Ecuador, and other countries.

I have a long-standing interest in front-of-package labels and wrote about opposition to the warning-label movement recently in a commentary in the American Journal of Public Health.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a statement:

More countries, and certainly the United States, Canada, and Mexico, should give consumers easy-to-read front-of-package labeling that quickly communicates the information they need to avoid diet-related diseases…This is not an “America First” policy; it is an “Industry First” policy, conducted at the expense of the health of consumers in the U.S. and abroad.

Julia Belluz (Vox) describes the effects of a provision like this on Canada’s front-of-package labeling proposals.

Mexico’s outstanding food advocacy coalition, the Nutritional Health Alliance, argues that this pro-industry effort to block warning labels poses a serious threat to consumer rights and public health.

It held a press conference last week on this issue and has produced background documents (in Spanish, but it’s always fun to try Google Translate):

Nov 30 2017

Policy wonks: Here’s USDA’s latest introduction to global trade

The USDA has a new report out on global trade.  

It’s full of facts and figures about what foods we export and import, how the trade agreements and tariffs work, and how food aid works.  Here’s who we gets worldwide food aid:

And here’s why our food safety system is so important to protect:

If your eyes glaze over whenever you read anything about NAFTA or any other trade agreement, this is a good place to start understanding the issues.

Aug 23 2017

What’s up with NAFTA? Here’s how to get started.

The US, Canada, and Mexico have just finished the first round of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) negotiations.  Like all trade agreements, participants are looking for terms that will benefit them.

The U.S. objectives are on record (there are lots):

For agriculture, we want:

  • Duty-free market access for agricultural products
  • Reduced or eliminated tariffs for our products.
  • Elimination of non-tariff barriers—quotas, subsidies, price discrimination and undercutting.
  • Reasonable adjustment periods for regulatory changes
  • Reduction in burdens caused by regulatory differences.

For “Sanitary and Phytosanitary”—food safety—measures, we want:

  • Enforceable science-based measures
  • Allowing countries to set their own levels of food-safety protection
  • Expeditious resolution of unwarranted barriers to US food products
  • Enforceable rules to ensure non-discriminatory implementation of science-based measures.
  • Transparency in negotiations

Politico Pro Morning Agriculture has a truly wonderful summary of the positions of the three trading partners (if it’s behind a paywall, try this).

Timeline

  • Round #1: ended on Sunday (Here’s the bland trilateral statement about it)
  • Round #2: September 1-5 in Mexico City
  • Round #3: September 23-27 in Canada
  • Finish: before Mexico’s next election early in 2018

Want to know more?  Begin with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

Want to figure it out for yourself?

The FERN’s Ag Insider summarizes its recent NAFTA coverage , and makes it available outside its usual paywall—a gift:

Enjoy!

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May 2 2017

Breastfeeding policies are a barrier to trade? The U.S. trade office thinks so

Trade rules are not easy to understand because they are so remote from most people’s lives.  But Public Citizen is keeping an eye out on what’s happening in the trade world, and making its meaning clear.

It reports that the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has just released its latest National Trade Estimate.  This reviews our trading partners’ actions that we think constitute “significant trade barriers” and want to eliminate.

What might these be?

This may be hard to believe but high on the list are other countries’ policies to promote breastfeeding, of all things.

The Trump administration wants to get rid of these “technical trade barriers:”

  • Hong Kong draft code designed to “protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children.” This, according to USTR, could reduce sales of food products for infants and young children.
  • Indonesia: USTR wants to get rid of a draft regulation to ban advertising or promotion of milk products for children up to two years of age.
  • Malaysia: USTR doesn’t like its code restricting corporate marketing practices aimed at toddlers and young children.
  • Thailand: USTR wants to eliminate penalties for corporations that violate laws restricting the promotional, and marketing activities for modified milk for infants, follow-up formula for infants and young children, and supplemental foods for infants.

This is about protecting sales of infant formulas and weaning foods heavily marketing to mothers in developing countries as superior to breastfeeding, this despite vast amounts of evidence for the superiority of breastfeeding over any other method for promoting infant health.

Public Citizen’s Eyes on Trade reminds us:

For decades, infant formula manufacturers have been accused of aggressive marketing campaigns in developing countries to discourage breastfeeding and instead, to push new mothers into purchasing formula.  The famous boycott of Nestlé in the 1970s led to the development and adoption by nations worldwide of the UNICEF/World Health Organization (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (The Code) in 1981. The Code sets guidelines and restrictions on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, and reaffirms governments’ sovereign rights to take the actions necessary to implement and monitor these guidelines.

To promote and protect the practice of breastfeeding, many countries have implemented policies that restrict corporate marketing strategies targeting mothers. These policies have led to increased breastfeeding in many countries even though greater progress is still needed.

These are the policies the USTR wants eliminated.

For shame.

May 31 2016

Why trade issues matter: the still-to-be-ratified Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Every now and then I like to try to catch up with the arcane topic of trade agreements (see last week’s post).  Today, I’ll deal with the other one still in play, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office states the administration’s position on the TPP.  Ballotpedia.org has a helpful summary of where we are on it.

For this one, should you be at all interested, the full text of the TPP is available online.  Like all trade agreements in which the U.S. participates, the TPP is about reducing and eliminating tariffs.  In principle, this is supposed to foster competition and create business opportunities and, as the Trade Representative’s Office says, “leveling the playing field for American workers & American businesses.”

The TPP was signed by the U.S. and the 11 other participating countries in February.  But for us to participate in it, Congress has to ratify the agreement.  It has not yet done so, not least because the TPP is caught up in election-year politics.

Contributing to slow approval is the weak endorsement of the International Trade Commission, which was required to report on the agreement’s economic effects.  Its conclusion: TPP would improve the economy by 2032 (the target year, apparently)—but by less than 1%.  The report gives examples of the increased percentage over baseline in 2032:

  • Annual real income: $57.3 billion (0.23 %)
  • Real GDP: $42.7 billion (0.15 %)
  • Employment would be 0.07 %
  • Exports: $27.2 billion (1.0 %)
  • Imports: $48.9 billion (1.1 %)
  • Agriculture and food output: $10.0 billion (0.5 %)

So TPP has an upside, but a small one.

What about the downside?

For starters, see the letter filed in January by 1500 groups opposing the agreement, and this BMJ paper, just out, about the TPP’s potential to block public health policies such as front-of-package food labels.

Public Citizen also has concerns.  These include, among others, that the TPP would:

  • Make it easier for corporations to offshore American jobs.
  • Push down domestic wages.
  • Flood the U.S. with unsafe imported food.
  • Permit big pharmaceutical corporations to keep lower cost generic drugs off the market.
  • Tacitly permit human rights violations in partner countries (the agreement does not mention “human rights”).

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has problems with the “fast-track” rules passed by Congress earlier this year.  Under these rules, Congress is only allowed to vote yes or no on the agreement.  It cannot amend it. The IATP says:

Provisions in the chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards, for example, would reduce the food safety inspection capacity of food imports, and relegate controversies over GMOs to questions of market access rather than public or environmental health. The inclusion of investor state rules would give foreign corporations new ways to challenge a wide range of environmental and consumer laws around the world for alleged loss of anticipated profits. New rules on patent protections would limit farmers’ ability to save seeds. The agreement fails to acknowledge climate change while expanding an extractive mode of globalization. Like previous failed trade agreements, there are a lot of promises to help farmers that will likely result in the accelerated loss of family farms.

Should you want to do some advocacy on this issue, the IATP has produced a timeline for urging Congress to say no to the TPP, and a handy form for doing so.

May 26 2016

Those top-secret trade agreements: leaked TTIP documents

A couple of years ago, I wrote a long post attempting to explain the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement under negotiation since then with the European Union.  Like all trade agreements, this one is done secretly, making it difficult for interested parties to weigh in.

But Greenpeace Netherlands has now leaked what it says are the texts of 13 chapters of the TTIP.  These include 248 pages of internal documents dating from TTIP talks at some uncertain date.  These include chapters about food and agriculture, as well as many other issues.

The documents include a 25-page “Tactical State of Play” on the negotiations similar to a 20-page public EU report, but with more detail on points of disagreement and consensus.

Greenpeace claims that the documents demonstrate major risks for the climate, environment and consumer safety.  The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative strongly disagrees, and European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malström says the leaked documents only reflect negotiating positions.

I took a look at the leaked Chapter X Agriculture [US: Market Access].  The European Union proposes, for example:

  • [On public health and safety] The Parties recognize that their respective societal choices may differ with respect to public policy decisions affecting agriculture. In this regard, nothing in this Agreement will restrain the Parties from taking measures necessary to achieve legitimate policy objectives such as the protection of public health, safety, environment or public morals, social or consumer protection, or the promotion and protection of cultural diversity that each side deems appropriate.
  • [On sustainability] The Parties recall the prominent role of sustainability in its economic, social and environmental dimensions in agriculture and aim at developing a fruitful cooperation and dialogue on agricultural sustainability issues. To this end, the Parties shall work together to…exchange ideas and share experience in developing sustainable farming practices, particularly with regards to organic farming, and environmentally friendly rural development programs.
  • [On geographical indicators] The Parties shall cooperate in matters related to geographical indications…The Parties reaffirm the importance of origin-linked products and geographical indications for sustainable agriculture and rural development, and in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises.

On international agricultural development, the United States proposes

The Parties shall work to promote international agricultural development and enhanced global food security by: (a) promoting robust global markets for food products and agricultural inputs; (b) seeking to avoid unwarranted trade measures that increase global food prices or exacerbate price volatility, in particular through avoiding the use of export taxes, export prohibitions or export restrictions on agricultural goods; and (c) encouraging and supporting research and education to develop innovative new agricultural products and strategies that address global challenges related to the production of abundant, safe and affordable food, feed, fiber, and energy.

You have to read between the lines to figure out what they are really talking about (GMOs in the case of this last one).

Politico Pro’s analysis suggests that several issues remain unresolved:

  • The link between agriculture and car parts: we take European car parts and they take our agricultural exports.
  • Protection of wine names. The EU does not want us to use European names for our wines; Washington does.
  • The EU’s October proposal to cut back on antibiotic use in livestock is not in these documents.
  • The sanitary and phytosanitary chapter (the one that deals with food safety) finds little agreement on use of animal growth hormones or GMOs.
  • GMOs: The US wants the EU to accept them. The US language says “Each Party shall endeavor to meet applicable timelines for all steps in its approval or authorization processes for products of modern agricultural technology.”

Perhaps in response, the EU has now released its own version of the agriculture chapter, and  the European Commission has released all of its working documents related to the TTIP, including draft proposals on agriculture and other matters.

The European Commission also released a report on the state of the negotiations.  Several points are unsettled.  The EU, for example:

  • Indicated it does not support a US proposal on modern agricultural technologies.
  • Insisted on the importance of animal welfare provisions in trade agreements and the relevance of the matter for SPS [Sanitary and Phytosanitary issues, such as food safety].
  • Stressed the importance of joint efforts to fight AMR [antimicrobial resistance] at all levels in all fora and argued for the inclusion of AMR in the SPS Chapter.

On our part, the U.S. goals for agricultural trade are

  • Eliminate tariffs and quotas
  • Address SPS measures and technical barriers to trade (TBT).

More than two dozen Senators urged U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to ensure there is “a strong framework” for agriculture in the TTIP, warning that its absence could have a negative impact on Congressional support for any deal.

As long as the negotiations continue in secret, all of this will remain mysterious and out of the reach of the public.  This makes trade negotiations inherently undemocratic, something Greenpeace attempted to reverse in releasing the leaked documents.

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