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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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December 23, 2011

Program to Give Access to NAFTA Trucks Violates the Law

TruckPublic Citizen, the Teamsters, and the Sierra Club filed an opening brief earlier this week on our lawsuit to stop the Obama administration's illegal program to allow unsafe Mexico-domiciled trucks to travel throughout the United States. It's the latest development in the story about how NAFTA may force the United States to lower its highway safety standards by permitting Mexico-domiciled trucks on its roads.

NAFTA included a requirement that all three countries’ highways be fully accessible to trucking companies based in any NAFTA nation by 2000, an item pushed by large U.S. trucking firms seeking deregulation and lower wages. However, the Department of Transportation studies have found that Mexico-domiciled trucks have much worse safety records than U.S. trucks, so public opposition has stymied attempts to open all U.S. highways to these trucks. In 2007, Congress put strict conditions on any pilot program that would evaluate the performance of Mexico-domiciled trucks on U.S. highways.

The Obama administration chose to ignore some of Congress’s conditions when it initiated a pilot program this October. Under the program, Mexico-domiciled trucks entering the United States do not need to show that they are built to U.S. safety standards, nor do drivers of these trucks need to meet all physical standards required of U.S. drivers. Furthermore, the administration did not follow proper procedures when conducting an environmental impact assessment. The program does not even serve its stated purpose of evaluating the ability of Mexico-domiciled trucks to operate safely in the United States, since there is no plan to collect a statistically valid sample of program participants. Finally, Congress insisted that any pilot program achieve comparable access for U.S. trucks in Mexico, but due to the limited availability of certain fuels, the program does not guarantee reciprocal access to Mexico for U.S. trucks.

For more background on NAFTA trucks, visit our landing page on the issue.

(Image courtesy of the Missouri Department of Transportation)

December 22, 2011

99 Percent Asked to Leave While the 1% Takes Center Stage At Trans-Pacific FTA Hearing

TPP Final PicThe Occupy movement was in full force in Washington last week, as local activists and members of Trade Justice New York Metro attended the Trans Pacific Free Trade Agreement (FTA) hearings. The activists wanted to tell members of Congress as well as officials from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) that the Trans-Pacific FTA needs to live up to the high standards the Obama administration promised the American people.

The activists donned t-shirts, with the messages “Don’t Trade Our Lives Away,” “Make Trade Fair for the 99 percent,” and “Got Text?” to represent their opposition to the way the Trans-Pacific FTA has been negotiated thus far. During an intermission between panelists, the activists linked arms and stood by the door to allow the press and members of Congress to read their messages of dissent. The Capitol police photographed the activist attending the hearing and then promptly asked them to leave. While it was clear that the 99% was not wanted at the hearing, the 1% took center stage before the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade deals.

First, the panel heard the testimony of Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Demetrios Marantis.

Angela Hoffman, Vice President of Global Integrated Sourcing and Trade for Wal-Mart Stores, also testified in favor of some very one-percenter policies. The Wal-Mart representative stated, “USTR should consider alternative approaches to yard forward provision.” The “yard-forward rule of origin” provisions was presented by members of Congress trying to protect over 470,000 American workers in their districts, who are employed in the US textile industry and cannot compete with the low wages paid to workers in Vietnam and China. Wal-Mart also pushed for greater liberalization of non-tariff regulations such as “limitations on size, geographic locations and merchandise assortment.

TPP Final 2One of the concerns presented by the activists is the lack of transparency. While Obama and the USTR stated that they would usher in a new era of transparency, this has not been the case. Instead, the only text of the negotiations that has been released is a memo of understanding signed by the Obama administration and negotiating parties that they will not release the text of the negotiations until 4 years after the deal is concluded or the talks have ended. Activists were also concerned with troubling limitations on access to medicines, which may occur if trade negotiators extend intellectual property rights as well as data exclusivity beyond the May 10, 2007 agreement, which helped to increase access to medicine by allowing low income countries to produce generic medicines under more flexible arrangements.

Members of Congress have also issued letters to the United States Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, to ensure that the new TPP negotiations do not worsen access to medicines for critical programs to combat AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other life-threatening diseases. Yet, it seems as if US trade negotiators hear the voices of the 1% far louder than those of the 99%, and are now considering a medical pricing proposal brought to them by Big Pharma. We have not forgotten the words made when President Obama was simply the Senator from Illinois, fighting for the 99% “Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet.” We will fight to keep this promise even if the 1% do not.

December 21, 2011

Pledge asks Congress to stand up for consumers’ right to know what’s on the dinner table

WTO ban editedJust when we thought that that the World Trade Organization (WTO) couldn’t do worse, it managed to wrap up 2011 with a series of dreadful decisions. The international body ruled against our country-of-origin labels on meat, dolphin-safe labels on tuna, and our ban on candy and clove flavored cigarettes. These are all US consumer policies we rely on to allow us to protect children’s health and make informed decisions. Thanks to such rulings, our government will have to either water down or eliminate these safeguards, or face trade sanctions.

It begs the question: Will this be last holiday season that you have a right to know where your food comes from, and how the environment, animals and people were impacted in its production?

We hope not. The press and Congress may be asleep at the wheel on this issue, but consumers can sound off the alarm by asking their congressional leaders to sign the Consumer Rights Pledge—a pledge to protect policies from the attacks of Big Business and a shameful WTO.

December 15, 2011

Carolers Sing for WTO Turnaround at Ministerial

WTO Turnaround, 12.14.11

December 14, 2011

Todd Tucker Talks Food Safety with Thom Hartmann

Our own Todd Tucker stopped by the Thom Hartmann program to explain how two recent WTO rulings might undermine consumers' right to know exactly what they are eating.

Check out the full interview here:

December 07, 2011

WTO Turnaround: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Development First!

GTW will be heading to Geneva next week to join the global civil society response to the World Trade Organization's 8th Ministerial Conference. Our colleague Deborah James from Our World Is Not For Sale Network wrote this informative piece, published in Common Dreams, which explains the current complexities facing the multilateral trading system and our global call from civil society for a "WTO Turnaround".

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WTO Turnaround: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Development First!

December 15-17, 2011, Trade Ministers will convene in Geneva, Switzerland for an 8th WTO Ministerial Meeting. After many failed Ministerial meetings and nearly ten years of negotiations, the Doha Round of WTO expansion is at a crossroads. Increasingly, developed countries have tried to push aside agreements to negotiate on key developing country issues intended to correct the imbalances within the existing WTO, which formed the basis of the development mandate of Doha. Instead, rich-country governments appear to be re-packaging the old liberalization and market access demands of their corporate interests as so-called “21st century” issues. This Ministerial will determine the future path of WTO negotiations, and the global Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network is calling for a fundamental transformation.

November 30 marked the 12th anniversary of the massive protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, Washington, which succeeded in preventing the launch of the so-called “Millennium Round” of WTO expansion negotiations. Developing countries, led by African ministers and buoyed by massive street protests, opposed the launching of a new round of liberalization, focusing instead on their demands to fix the problems left over from the last round. Two years later, after receiving promises from rich countries that the next round would focus on development, these same countries acquiesced to a new “Doha Round.”

Throughout the last ten years, negotiations have collapsed several times, but have always been re-started. Unfortunately, the development mandate has been all but abandoned, with negotiations shifting to focus on the desires of corporations in rich countries, in services, agriculture, and manufactured goods, to achieve greater access to markets in developing countries. Nevertheless, they came perilously close to concluding in the summer of 2008. Since then, the emergence of the economic crises has resulted in a global re-think of the neoliberal economic model by citizens around the world, with resulting domestic pressure against governments to further entrench such a calamitous economic paradigm.

our world is not for sale 2photo: RonnieHall

In many countries – such as Brazil, India, South Africa, and China – leaders are no longer willing to roll over to U.S. and EU demands, as their geopolitical power has grown along with their economies. A key demand of the United States, roiling under the surface of the negotiations, is that these countries should no longer be treated as developing countries – although they have far more poor people than all of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) combined. The Obama administration decided that since it could not get much of a stimulus package through the Republican-controlled House, the U.S. would focus on increasing exports to these “emerging markets” as a way to boost U.S. economic recovery. But since many of these countries did enact stimulus programs adequate to the size of their economies, and were thus faster on the road to recovery after the crisis than the United States, they are understandably reluctant to bail out the U.S. economy at the expense of their own jobs and development potential. (Unfortunately, past experience with WTO and bilateral trade agreements demonstrates that they are net job losers, thus exposing the jobs claim as a cover-up for pushing the trade agenda of corporate donors.)

Continue reading "WTO Turnaround: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Development First!" »

December 02, 2011

Op-Ed: Trade rulings undermine consumer protection

Lori Wallach and Todd Tucker sound the alarm on the danger of three anti-consumer WTO rulings and the need to chart a path to a pro-consumer trade policy in an opinion piece in The Hill today:

Trade rulings undermine consumer protection

By Lori Wallach and Todd Tucker

“His name was Colin; here are his papers,” said the waitress presenting a bound prospectus to two diners who possess a limitless interest in the origin, diet and even friendship circle of the chicken they are about to order. The scene comes from Portlandia, the sketch comedy that skewers the bobo lifestyle.

Most of us aren’t quite so inquisitive about our food. But in an era of mass food-borne illness outbreaks, we do need retailers to provide basic information about our foods’ origins, and regulators to ensure the accuracy of these claims.

The country-of-origin labels we now rely on come from a 2008 law that ensures we know in which countries our meat was born, raised and slaughtered. The policy resulted from decades of consumer campaigning in response to slaughterhouses’ practices of routinely combining dozens of animals from diverse countries into the same hamburger patty, without having to even document the cattle’s origin.

Last month, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the law violated the global agency’s rules. A three-person tribunal in Geneva admitted that there was no strong evidence of quantifiable damage to Mexico and Canada, which challenged the law. Yet, if U.S. officials do not appeal or the appeal fails, the U.S. must weaken or eliminate the policy, or we face indefinite trade sanctions.

Continue reading "Op-Ed: Trade rulings undermine consumer protection" »

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