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  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

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June 15, 2017

NAFTA Legacy Series: Mexico’s Lost Opportunity

With NAFTA renegotiations about to begin, Public Citizen has compiled the latest information on how NAFTA’s outcomes measure up to its proponents’ promises. This is the fourth of a four-part expose.

To hear President Trump’s version of NAFTA, Mexico was the big winner. The reality is that NAFTA cost more than two million Mexicans lost their livelihoods related to agriculture. Mexican workers’ real wages are 9 percent lower or $1,500 less than in the year before NAFTA with median manufacturing wages of $2.50 per hour sufficient to support basic needs.

After the first two decades of NAFTA, Mexico’s real gross domestic product per capita growth rate has been a paltry 18.6 percent, ranking 18th out of the 20 countries of Central and South America. In contrast, from 1960 through 1980, Mexico’s per capita gross domestic product grew 98.7 percent. Mexico would be close to European living standards today if it had continued its previous growth rates.

And Mexican taxpayers have forked over $204 million to corporations attacking domestic laws in front of NAFTA tribunals of three corporate lawyers whose decisions are not subject to appeal.

The Mexican people – like people in the United States - were promised that NAFTA would strengthen their economy and raise wages. But after more than 20 years of NAFTA, over half of the Mexican population, and over 60 percent of the rural population, still fall below the national poverty line.

Mexican farmers suffered the worst under the agreement. Before NAFTA, Mexico only imported corn and other basic food commodities if local production did not meet domestic needs. But NAFTA eliminated Mexican tariffs on corn and other commodities and required revocation of programs supporting small farmers. Amidst a NAFTA-spurred influx of cheap U.S. corn, the price paid to Mexican farmers for the corn that they grew fell by 66 percent, forcing many to abandon farming. From 1991 to 2007, about 2 million Mexicans engaged in farming and related work lost their livelihoods. The price of tortillas – Mexico’s staple food – shot up 279 percent in the pact’s first ten years, even as the price paid to Mexican corn farmers plummeted.

To read more on NAFTA’s effects on Mexico, please click here

June 13, 2017

NAFTA Legacy Series: Empty Promises for U.S. Farmers

With NAFTA renegotiations about to begin, Public Citizen has compiled the latest information on how NAFTA’s outcomes measure up to its proponents’ promises. This is the third of a four-part expose.

Agriculture is supposed to be the winner under NAFTA, right? Um, no: the U.S. agriculture trade balance with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada fell from a $2.5 billion surplus in the year before NAFTA to a $6.4 billion deficit in 2016. The rising trade deficit in agricultural products has contributed to the loss of more than 200,000 small family farms. Since NAFTA has taken effect, one out of every ten small farms has disappeared.

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Yes, we exported much more corn to Mexico since NAFTA. But our NAFTA trade deficits in beef/live cattle and vegetables outweigh those gains. And, here’s another conventional wisdom buster: even without NAFTA U.S. corn would not face tariffs in Mexico. Mexico eliminated tariffs on corn for all countries in 2008.

But government data reveals that since 1993, U.S. agricultural imports from NAFTA countries have grown much quicker than U.S. exports to those same countries, resulting in massive agricultural trade deficits. Since the Great Recession, U.S. food imports have grown twice as fast as U.S. food exports.

To read more on NAFTA’s effects on U.S. agriculture, please click here.

June 08, 2017

NAFTA Legacy Series: Corporate Courts Attack Public Interest Laws

With NAFTA renegotiations about to begin, Public Citizen has compiled the latest information on how NAFTA’s outcomes measure up to its proponents’ promises. This is the second of a four-part expose.

The key provision in NAFTA grants new rights to thousands of foreign corporations to sue the U.S. government before a tribunal of three corporate lawyers. These lawyers can award corporations unlimited sums to be paid by American taxpayers, including for the loss of expected future profits. These corporations need only convince the lawyers that a U.S. law or safety regulation violates their NAFTA rights. The corporate lawyers’ decisions are not subject to appeal. This system is formally called Investor-State Dispute Settlement.

More than $392 million in compensation has already been paid out to corporations in a series of investor-state cases under NAFTA. This includes attacks on oil, gas, water and timber policies, toxics bans, health and safety measures, and more. In fact, of the 14 claims (for more than $50 billion) currently pending under NAFTA, nearly all relate to environmental, energy, financial, public health, land use and transportation policies – not traditional trade issues.

While this shadow legal system for multinational corporations has been around since the 1950s, just 50 known cases were launched in the regime’s first three decades combined. In contrast, corporations have launched approximately 50 claims in each of the last six years. ISDS is now so controversial that some governments have begun terminating their treaties that include ISDS.

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As corporations and law firms become emboldened and more creative in their uses of ISDS, it is likely only a matter of time before U.S. taxpayers are on the hook: as long as NAFTA is in effect, more than 8,500 corporate subsidiaries from Canada and Mexico are empowered to use ISDS to challenge our policies.

To read more about how these tribunals of three corporate lawyers have been operating under NAFTA, please click here.

June 06, 2017

NAFTA Legacy Series: Lost Jobs, Lower Wages, Increased Inequality

With NAFTA renegotiations about to begin, Public Citizen has compiled the latest information on how NAFTA’s outcomes measure up to its proponents’ promises. This is the first of a four-part expose.

NAFTA was sold to the U.S. public in 1993 with grand promises of improved trade balances and more jobs. Instead, more than 910,000 specific American jobs have been certified as lost to NAFTA – due to rising imports and offshoring – under just one narrow government program that undercounts the damage.

And the United States’ trade small trade surplus with Mexico and small deficit with Canada crashed into a $134.3 billion deficit – counting both goods and services.   The U.S. goods trade deficit with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico increased 521 percent – it was $173 billion in 2016 - as annual growth of that deficit was 47 percent higher with Mexico and Canada than with countries that are not party to a NAFTA-style trade pact – a group that includes China. And, annual growth of U.S. services exports to Mexico and Canada since NAFTA has fallen to less than half the pre-NAFTA rate.  

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As we lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, wages were pushed down economy-wide. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, two out of every five displaced manufacturing worker rehired in 2016 experienced a wage reduction, with one out of four taking a cut of greater than 20 percent. For the average manufacturing worker earning more than $38,000 per year, this meant an annual loss of at least $7,700. And as these workers joined the glut of those already competing for non-offshorable service sector jobs, wages in these growing service sectors were also pushed down.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research has discovered that the trade-related losses in wages now outweigh the gains in cheaper goods for the vast majority of U.S. workers.

Lost jobs and lower wages have exacerbated income inequality to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Even proponents of NAFTA admit that trade pressures have likely contributed to today’s historic degree of inequality. The pro-NAFTA Peterson Institute has estimated that 39 percent of observed growth in U.S. wage inequality is attributable to trade trends.

To read more about NAFTA’s effects on the U.S. economy, jobs and income inequality, please click here.

May 22, 2017

Ecuador Says No to ISDS, Exits BITs*

After years of sustained activism in Latin America and across the globe, the President of Ecuador recently terminated its remaining 16 treaties that empower multinational corporations to challenge its laws before panels of three corporate lawyers and demand unlimited sums of taxpayer money.

By terminating treaties that include the corporate-rigged investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system, Ecuador is the latest country to prioritize its people over corporate rights.

Ecuador’s decision to terminate its ISDS pacts was spurred by firsthand experience with some egregious cases, particularly with Big Oil. For example, Chevron is looking to avoid paying for its massive pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon. And, Occidental Petroleum received a $1.4 billion award against Ecuador despite having obviously violated its contract with the government.

In response to citizens’ uproar against ISDS throughout Latin America, in 2013, the Ecuadorian government established an audit commission of government officials, academics, lawyers and civil society groups to analyze the costs and benefits of the country’s existing treaties and make recommendations.

On May 8, the government made public the Audit Commission’s 688-page report, which recommended that the government should terminate its remaining treaties and develop an alternative investment treaty model that removes ISDS and rebalances the rights of citizens over corporations.

The Audit Commission reported that the treaties had failed to deliver on promised foreign investment and had, in fact, undermined the development objectives laid out in Ecuador’s constitution. The report found that Ecuador had been forced to pay nearly $1.5 billion to multinational corporations (equivalent to 62 percent of its annual health spending), and that, under currently pending cases, the government runs the risk of having to pay out $13.4 billion (more than half the government’s entire annual budget for 2017).

Ecuador’s President Raphael Correa heeded the advice in the Audit Commission’s report and on May 16, 2017, issued executive decrees that terminated the existing treaties, including its treaty with the United States.

Ecuador joins countries — such as South Africa, Indonesia, Bolivia and India — that have terminated their investment treaties. Meanwhile, Mercosur and the South African Development Community have recently explicitly excluded ISDS from their respective investment protocols.

And Ecuador’s move away from ISDS-enforced treaties mirrors the growing movements in Europe and the United States to stop the expansion of corporate power through ISDS. Bipartisan opposition to ISDS in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a significant reason that the deal could never achieve majority support in the U.S. Congress. The wave of opposition to ISDS in Europe also helped to stall the U.S.-EU negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Worldwide, the tide is turning against the notion that multinational corporations and investors should be granted extraordinary rights and the ability to enforce them against governments in a corporate-rigged, extrajudicial system. Ecuador’s announcement shows that the diverse movement of civil society, legal scholars and government officials concerned about ISDS are making progress in rolling back the regime.

In the United States, the upcoming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an obvious opportunity to demand that ISDS be eliminated from any NAFTA replacement.

As pressure grows worldwide for governments to withdraw from the ISDS system, the Trump administration has 60 days before it must reveal its position. (Under Fast Track, the administration must publicly post a detailed description of its negotiating plans 60 days after the initial notice.)

Given that ISDS was a key contributor to the U.S. Congress’ opposition to the TPP, it is not surprising that the administration’s NAFTA renegotiation notice was greeted by demands from Congress and civil society that ISDS elimination must be a top priority.  

*Updated 5/22/17 .

May 18, 2017

Will NAFTA Renegotiation Produce TPP 2.0 and Intensify Damage? Or Fulfill Trump Promise of a ‘Much Better’ Deal for Working Americans? Maintaining Secretive Process With 500 Official Corporate Advisers Does Not Bode Well

Statement of Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

Note: Today, the Trump administration sent formal notice of NAFTA renegotiation to Congress.

As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to make NAFTA “much better” for working people. Today’s notice is markedly vague. But Trump’s NAFTA renegotiation plan that leaked in late March described just what the corporate lobby is demanding: using NAFTA talks to revive parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), like expanded investor incentives to offshore jobs that could make NAFTA even worse for working people.

The obvious measure of whether NAFTA renegotiation is intended to benefit working people is if Trump makes clear he will eliminate NAFTA’s special investor rights that make it easier to offshore American jobs and attack our laws before tribunals of three corporate lawyers who can award the firms unlimited sums of taxpayer money.

If corporate elites are allowed to dictate how NAFTA is renegotiated, the agreement could become more damaging for working families and the environment in the three countries. And modest tweaks will not stop NAFTA’s ongoing damage, much less deliver on Trump’s promises for a deal that will create American jobs and raise wages.

Already the 500 corporate trade advisers who got us into the TPP have been consulted on NAFTA renegotiations, while the few labor advisers were shut out of that March meeting. And the public and Congress are being left in the dark about negotiating plans and goals.

If Trump won’t make negotiations transparent – by issuing detailed goals and making draft texts available – how can the public know that the deal is not being shaped to benefit Trump’s many Canadian and Mexican investments, or that the Goldman Sachs team in the White House isn’t turning NAFTA into TPP 2.0?

Trump’s conflicts of interest and self-dealing opportunities with NAFTA renegotiation are not hypothetical; the sprawling Trump business empire has 14 Canadian and two Mexican investments. Some of Trump’s clothing line is made in Mexico. Trump won’t divest his business holdings or release his tax returns, so unless he reveals his full Mexican and Canadian business dealings, we won’t even know in whose interest these NAFTA talks are being conducted.

Trump’s broken promises on trade are piling up. Instead of punishing firms that offshore American jobs, he has awarded United Technologies 15 lucrative new government contracts even after they proceeded to offshore 1,200 of their 2,000 Indiana Carrier jobs. Instead of enacting the promised “get tough on China” trade policy, he flip-flopped on his pledge to declare China a currency manipulator on Day One and has done nothing to counter our massive $347 billion China trade deficit.

May 04, 2017

Today’s Five-Year Korea FTA Data Show March Imports From Korea Higher Than All But One Month Since Pact Started: What Is Trump’s Plan for Pact?

U.S. Trade Deficit With Korea Has Soared as U.S. Exports Have Fallen; Imports Jumped Since 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Imports from Korea in March 2017 were higher than any month but one in the five years the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has been in effect. Today’s release of new U.S. Census trade data for the first full five years of the Korea FTA spotlight statements from both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the past month that the pact’s outcomes are unacceptable. While the statements were notable for coming despite escalating military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, what the administration will do about the pact and when remains a mystery.

“Our trade deficit with Korea has increased dramatically under this agreement, which Trump bashed on the campaign trail, and workers in the swing states that elected Trump have been hardest hit, so what will Trump do about it,” asked Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

While then-Representative Pence voted to pass the agreement in 2011, now-Vice President Pence, in an April 2017 trip to Seoul, declared the pact to be “falling short” and needing review and reform. Later that month, Trump declared of the Korea deal: “We’ve told them that we’ll either terminate or negotiate. We may terminate.”  Trump spotlighted the “job-killing trade deal with South Korea” in his nomination acceptance speech and on the stump, where he also often noted that “this deal doubled our trade deficit with South Korea and destroyed nearly 100,000 American jobs.”

Many of Trump’s trade-related campaign pledges were broken in his first 100 days, calling into question the prospects for action on the Korea pact. A powerful White House faction opposes the trade policy changes that Trump promised would deliver more American jobs and lower deficits.

The agreement, sold by the Obama administration with a “more export, more jobs” slogan, has resulted in U.S. exports to Korea declining 7.8 percent ($3.7 billion) and imports from Korea increasing 13.1 percent ($8.1 billion) by the end of its fifth year. The 85 percent trade deficit increase with Korea under the pact – from $14 billion in the 12 months before the pact went into effect on March 15, 2012, to $26 billion in its fifth year – came in the context of the overall U.S. trade deficit with the world decreasing by 5 percent. While U.S. goods imports from the world decreased by 7.1 percent, goods imports from Korea increased by 13.1 percent.

Defenders of the pact claim the results stem from weakness in Korea’s economy, but in fact, Korea’s GDP has risen by 15 percent from 2011 to 2016 while the unemployment rate has averaged 3.4 percent – hardly the indicators of a weak economy. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. service sector trade surplus with Korea has increased by only $2 billion from 2011 to 2015 a growth rate of 29 percent in its five years in effect that is notably 64 percent slower than our services surplus growth over the five years before the FTA went into effect. (Service sector data for the full fifth year of the deal will be released in October.)

Despite the Korea FTA including more than 10,000 tariff cuts, 80 percent of which began on Day One:

  • Record-breaking U.S. trade deficits with Korea have become the new normal under the FTA – in 59 of the 60 months since the Korea FTA took effect, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has exceeded the average monthly trade deficit in the five years before the deal.
  • Since the FTA took effect, U.S. average monthly exports to Korea have fallen in 9 of the 15 U.S. sectors that export the most to Korea, relative to the year before the FTA.
  • The auto sector was among the hardest hit: The U.S. trade deficit with Korea in motor vehicles grew 55.7 percent in the pact’s first five years. U.S. imports of motor vehicles from Korea have increased by 64.2 percent, or $6.4 billion by the fifth year of the Korea FTA.
  • Exports of machinery and computer/electronic products, collectively comprising 27 percent of U.S. exports to Korea, have fallen 17.1 and 18.8 percent, respectively.
  • U.S. exports to Korea of agricultural goods have fallen 5.4 percent in the first five years of the Korea FTA, despite almost two-thirds of U.S. agricultural exports by value obtaining immediate duty-free entry to Korea under the pact. U.S. agricultural imports from Korea, meanwhile, have grown 45.4 percent under the FTA. As a result, the U.S. agricultural trade balance with Korea has declined 8.1 percent, or $554 million, since the FTA’s implementation. The Obama administration promised that U.S. exports of meat would rise particularly swiftly, thanks to the deal’s tariff reductions on these products. However, despite U.S. officials’ promises that the pact would enhance cooperation between the U.S. and Korean governments to resolve food safety and animal health issues that affect trade, South Korea has imposed temporary bans on imports of American poultry in each of the last three years, including 2017. Comparing the fifth year of the FTA to the year before it went into effect, U.S. poultry producers have faced a 78 percent collapse of exports to Korea – a loss of 82,000 metric tons of poultry exports to Korea. U.S. pork exports have also dropped 1 percent.

April 25, 2017

New Report Reveals Trump Is Not Punishing Corporations that Offshore American Jobs, but Awarding Them New Government Contracts

56 Percent of Top U.S. Government Contractors Offshored Jobs

WASHINGTON, DC – Despite President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to punish firms that offshore American jobs, the flow of federal contract awards to major offshorers has continued unabated since Trump’s inauguration, according to a new report released today by Good Jobs Nation and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. The report, titled “Trump’s First 100 Days: Federal Contracting with Corporate Offshorers Continues,” reveals that a majority of the largest U.S. government contractors ship jobs overseas. Even after United Technology decided to offshore 1200 of its 2000 Indiana Carrier jobs to Mexico despite Trump’s interventions, the firm has obtained 15 new federal government contracts since Inauguration Day.

Key findings of the study include:

  • 56 percent of the top 50 federal contractors in FY 2016 were certified under just one narrow U.S. government program as having engaged in offshoring, and 41 percent of the top 100 FY 2016 contractors were certified as having offshored jobs.
  • The top federal contractors certified as having offshored jobs received $176 billion in contracts in 2016, which accounts for more than a third of total contract spending for that year.
  • Since Trump’s inauguration, the flow of federal contract awards to major offshorers has continued, with United Technologies, for instance, receiving 15 new awards and General Electric obtaining scores more. 

Read the full report here.   

“Our analysis proves that Donald Trump is not fulfilling his signature campaign promises to stop offshoring and bring back American jobs.  Even though he’s signed over 60 executive orders during his first 100 days, he has yet to use the power of the pen to stop corporations that receive taxpayer dollars from shipping American jobs overseas,” said Joseph Geevarghese, director of Good Jobs Nation.    

“After pledging to punish companies that offshore American jobs, Trump has not even used his expansive unilateral authority to ban offshorers from being awarded lucrative government contracts.  Instead of delivering on his promises to end offshoring and create American jobs, Trump is rewarding companies that offshore with big contracts paid by our tax dollars. He has not introduced the End Offshoring Act or launched the NAFTA renegotiations he promised for his first 100 days, and he caved on taking tough actions to reduce our huge job-killing China trade deficit,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. 

“It's disgusting that companies like T-Mobile get taxpayer money at the same time they’re sending thousands of jobs abroad,” said Jamone Ross, a former call center worker for T-Mobile in Texas, who lost his job  in 2012 along with 500 co-workers when T-Mobile shifted their work to Asia and Honduras.  “When I lost my job I’d just gotten married and bought a house. Thanks to T-Mobile, I spent the first year of my marriage taking out loans to keep up my mortgage payments, and the next year digging myself out of debt.  Friends of mine lost their cars and their apartments. If Trump really cares about American workers, like he says, he should stop this, right now.”

U.S. presidents have broad executive authority to enact “policies and directives” for federal contracting. Trump has failed to exercise this authority to cut off firms that offshore from obtaining lucrative government contracts paid with taxpayers funds.

The report highlights that Trump appeared willing to flex his muscle as “purchaser-in-chief” right after the 2016 election with his high-profile interventions to try to prevent United Technologies, a major defense contractor, from shipping its Carrier subsidiary’s operations to Mexico.  However, the study finds that since then Trump not only has failed to take promised actions, such as introducing and “fight[ing] for passage within the first 100 days of my Administration” of a Stop Offshoring Act in his first 100 days, but his administration has approved lucrative contracts with some of the nation’s most notorious chronic offshoring corporations.

 

April 19, 2017

Trump’s Trade Agency Attacks Other Countries’ Efforts to Promote and Protect Breastfeeding in New Report

On March 31, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released the National Trade Estimate report. This is a statutorily-required annual review of U.S. trade partners’ “significant trade barriers” that the U.S. government seeks to have eliminated.

The 492-page report provides excellent insight into the growing global backlash against our current “trade” policies. While President Donald Trump has flip-flopped on his pledges to reverse the gigantic job-killing trade deficit with China, this U.S. government report labels as illegal trade barriers an array of public interest policies, including – shamefully – other governments’ policies to promote breastfeeding.

Despite substantial progress in reducing infant mortality around the world in recent decades, nearly seven million children under the age of five still die each year – about half of them newborns. Studies show that breastfeeding has the potential to save 800,000 children under the age of five every single year.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “breastfeeding is the foundation of good nutrition and protects children against disease.” But only 43 percent of infants (0-5 months) in the world are exclusively breastfed, and this number is even lower in parts of Latin America, Africa and Europe.

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.  

Rather than embracing these efforts to safeguard the world’s most vulnerable inhabitants, the Trump administration, in its March 31 report, indicted the policies as “trade barriers” that should be eliminated:  

  • Hong Kong: The Report criticizes a Hong Kong draft code, designed to “protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children.” USTR labels the policy as a technical barrier to trade due to its potential to reduce sales of “food products for infants and young children.”
  • Indonesia: USTR labels a draft regulation in Indonesia that would prohibit the “advertising or promotion of milk products for children up to two years of age” as a technical barrier to trade.
  • Malaysia: USTR questions Malaysia’s proposed revisions to “its existing Code of Ethics for the Marketing of Infant Foods and Related Products” that would restrict corporate marketing practices aimed at toddlers and young children.
  • Thailand: The report critiques Thailand for introducing a new regulation that would impose penalties on corporations that violate domestic 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.”

Seriously? Why not also label popular public health policies aimed at reducing medicine prices as trade barriers too? Oh, actually, that is also a feature of the report.

April 17, 2017

Trump’s Trade Deficit “Fix”: Flip-flop on China Pledges and Attack Breastfeeding, Affordable Medicines and Anti-Obesity Policies

What’s a $437 billion dollar trade deficit between frenemies? Apparently not sufficient for President Donald Trump to keep his oft-repeated pledge to declare China a currency manipulator, the world learned last week.

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This reversal comes on the heels of last week’s study-not-action move on his promise to reduce the trade deficit. President Trump signed an Executive Order to create yet another study on foreign trade barriers –   oddly enough, on the same day that his administration released the government’s annual report that analyzes “significant foreign trade barriers” among U.S. trading partners. 

So what are these so-called “trade barriers”?

Well, sadly, they are an embarrassing list of attacks on other countries’ public health and environmental policies, financial regulations and even religious standards.

Japan’s programs that reduce the cost of medicines and New Zealand’s popular health programs that control medicine prices are on the hit list. (Yup, the list includes attacks on policies that promote competition from generic drugs to bring down prices for consumers, which ostensibly is what “free trade” is supposed to do.)

Also targeted is Vietnam – for strengthening its inspection processes for imported foods.  Mexico’s new energy efficiency standards for electronic and electrical equipment are smacked because they impose “burdensome and costly requirements on products exported to Mexico.”

Bad on Canada for having requirement that drug companies, um, demonstrate a medicine’s utility before firms can obtain monopoly patent rights. Somehow the European Union’s requirement that corporations “obtain parental consent to process the personal data of minors aged 16 years or younger” is a trade barrier because this forces corporations “to interrupt or curtail service to a large and active segment of their customer base.”

And then they go after the babies. Public interest policies aimed at promoting breastfeeding are “significant trade barriers.” That includes a draft Hong Kong code meant to “protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children.” The administration labels this to be a technical barrier to trade due to its potential to reduce sales of “food products for infants and young children.”

The report goes after Thailand for introducing a new regulation that would impose penalties on corporations that violate domestic 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.” That would otherwise be known as Thailand’s implementation of the World Health Organization/United Nations Children Fund International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.

Continuing with the attack on policies promoting children’s health, the report attacks several countries have introduced policies to reduce obesity among children and adolescents. In Chile, the government adopted a law that requires food products that exceed specified thresholds of sodium, sugar, energy (calories), and saturated fat “to bear a black octagonal ‘stop’ sign for each category with the words ‘High in’ salt, sugar, energy, or saturated fat.” The law prohibits corporations from advertising products that have at least one stop sign to children under the age of fourteen. The report explains this listing by claiming that this law has been costly for corporations.  (Odd, no mention of cost to the government or Chilean public of obesity-related childhood health problems.)

In Peru, a similar regulation “includes a mandatory front-of-pack warning statement on food labels for prepackaged foods that surpass an established threshold for sugar, sodium, and saturated fats, and for all food products that contain trans-fats. The Act also establishes restrictions on advertising and promoting such food products to children and adolescents.” The report labels this as a barrier to trade and asserts that it will continue to raise its concerns with Peru.

The report also gripes that it’s unfair that Malaysia – a predominately Muslim country – restricts the importation of alcohol, and that Brunei – another predominately Muslim country – requires that non-halal foods be sold in specially designated rooms.

Obviously, promoting bacon and booze sales in Muslim countries and sacking public health laws will solve our job-killing trade deficit. So why follow through on those “get tough on China trade cheating” pledges, or trade policy, or tackle the rules in our flawed trade deals that incentivize job-offshoring? Or, could it be that the Trump administration’s notion of “trade barriers” is coming from the same corporations that have shaped our past trade policies and, year after year, get the list of policies they dislike turned into the U.S. government’s list of other countries’ trade barriers requiring elimination?

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