Trade deals should benefit the people, instead of primarily serving the interests of powerful and wealthy corporations, but too often, the opposite is true. In 2016 Food & Water Watch, along with our allies in the labor, environmental, farm and public health movements, blocked the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal that would have endangered our food and water. Despite hurting America’s workers, communities, environment and public health, the TPP was negotiated in secret for years — the public was shut out while corporate lobbyists helped write the deal to increase their profits. And the big business lobby is still pushing a global deregulation agenda in the guise of trade deals.
“Free Trade” Is Really a Corporate Giveaway
So-called “free trade” deals like the TPP are really giveaways for corporations and can undermine the laws that protect people’s access to safe food and clean drinking water. These trade deals can hamper our ability to inspect a rising tide of riskier food imports, make it easier to privatize municipal water systems and make it harder to promote local food through farm-to-school programs. Now that the TPP has been stopped in its tracks, it’s time for a brand new trade agenda that puts communities, safe food, workers and the environment ahead of corporate interests.
How Trade Deals Give Up Our Democracy
Under past trade deals — and the derailed TPP — foreign governments and even foreign companies can attack U.S. laws. Other countries can challenge our laws as “trade barriers” in secret trade tribunals, which is how our country-of-origin meat labels were overturned. Foreign companies can use the trade deals to sue the United States if they think any rules or policies harm their future profits — including suing to overturn local fracking bans. A Canadian company sued for $15 billion because the United States blocked the climate-destroying Keystone XL pipeline (a case that became obsolete once the Trump White House approved KXL). With global trade, corporate profits too often override our democratically enacted laws. Any future trade deals must reject these corporate trade lawsuits and attacks on U.S. environmental, consumer protection and public health safeguards.
The Pitfalls of a Global Food Supply
Global trade deals undermine government policies that protect local farmers’ livelihoods, help countries maintain food self-sufficiency and preserve the environment for future generations. They also carry risks for U.S. consumers. Food imports have doubled under past trade deals, overwhelming U.S. border inspectors. Much of the seafood, fruits and vegetables imported into the U.S. are raised under weaker environmental, workplace and food safety standards, but we inspect so little that these risky foods can end up on our kitchen tables.
These deals also imperil common-sense food labeling—like labels that tell us where our food comes from—and other consumer protections that don’t benefit corporate bottom lines.
What’s more, international trade bodies such as the World Trade Organization have facilitated the global corporate agribusiness network that prizes cheap processed foods and feed for factory farms from GMO soybeans and corn. Large-scale industrial cultivation of these crops has devastated the environment in places from the Midwest to the Amazon. And most of these soy and corn crops are genetically engineered—reliant on huge amounts of herbicides like Roundup, which the World Health Organization has classified as a probable human carcinogen.
We need local food systems that support people, farmers and the environment—not global food systems that prioritize corporate profits over the health and safety of people. Food & Water Watch will fight to create progressive trade policies that put people, communities and the environment first — and we won’t let the big business and Wall Street lobbyists in the Trump administration continue the failed corporate trade deals of the past.
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