USDA Reduces Oversight of Egg Industry

Effective immediately, there will be less oversight.

The Trump administration, in its never-ending quest to reduce regulations on the agriculture industry, has unilaterally implemented a new rule that affects egg producers.

This new rule dramatically reduces the amount of time inspectors spend in egg production facilities, and will benefit large egg producers like Cal-Maine and Rose Acre.

The USDA announced the new rule in a press release on Wednesday, but that press release does not specifically mention what might be the most important part of it. In the release, the USDA says that this is the first change to egg inspection methods since the Egg Products Inspection Act was passed in 1970, and that the rule will make inspections of eggs closer to those of meat and poultry.

It does not mention that the major thrust of the rule is to reinterpret the phrase “continuous inspection,” which, as part of the 1970 law, has required a USDA inspector to be on the premises during the entirety of egg processing actions. Instead, the new rule will have fewer inspectors who make multiple stops per day, traveling between egg processing plants to visit once per shift, as reported by Reuters

This traveling, once-per-shift visit system has been in place for meat and poultry, but has not been met with widespread acclaim. Investigations have shown that this system has resulted in a shortage of inspectors, and when any one of those inspectors is sick or on vacation, others are forced to cover untenably large shifts. This is part of a large pattern, as reported by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, of reducing oversight and allowing large processing corporations to have advanced warning.

The new rule will also have egg producers develop their own safety plans; the USDA says this will provide more flexibility for individual plants. Investigations from Food & Water Watch found that, in a pilot program for swine plants using a similar system, there was inadequate oversight and a very high violation rate for serious issues, like contamination with feces.

Egg producers have encountered a mixed bag during the COVID-19 pandemic, with record (sometimes allegedly illegal) high prices and sales in grocery stores, but record lows in unshelled categories, as a result of decreased demand from hotels and restaurants.

Taken From: https://modernfarmer.com/2020/09/usda-reduces-oversight-of-egg-industry/?fbclid=IwAR2nOPQFlYs1w_smponC45UsdjmE4WEX5bQ-Du_ribQSY44hheYDrSBN7KQ

The N95 shortage America can’t seem to fix

N95s were designed to be thrown away after every patient. By this July afternoon, Williams had been wearing the same one for more than two months.

BALTIMORE — The patient exhaled. She lifted her tongue for a thermometer. She raised her finger for a blood sugar test, and that’s when she started coughing. One cough can send 3,000 droplets into the air, one droplet can contain millions of coronavirus particles, and now some of those particles were heading for the face of emergency department nurse Kelly Williams.

The nurse inhaled. Strapped over her mouth and nose was an N95 respirator, the disposable filtering mask that has become the world’s most reliable and coveted defense against the virus.

N95s were designed to be thrown away after every patient. By this July afternoon, Williams had been wearing the same one for more than two months.

To get to her, the N95 had traveled from a British factory to a Baltimore warehouse, in a supply chain as tangled and layered as the web of microscopic fibers inside the mask’s filter.

It was purchased by Johns Hopkins Hospital, the famed medical institution that has tracked cases of the novel coronavirus around the world since the pandemic’s start. When its map of dots marking clusters of infections began to show pools of red across the United States, Hopkins was quietly unpacking a stock of personal protective equipment it had been building for over a year — a literal lifesaver when the onslaught of covid-19 cases led to a massive shortage of N95s.

Six months later, that shortage persists, leaving health-care workers exposed, patients at risk and public health experts flummoxed over a seemingly simple question: Why is the world’s richest country still struggling to meet the demand for an item that once cost around $1 a piece?

At Hopkins, nurses are asked to keep wearing their N95s until the masks are broken or visibly dirty. Williams, a 30-year-old from Georgia with a marathoner’s endurance and a nurse’s practicality, went into health care after working for three years in the corporate offices of retailers Abercrombie & Fitch and Under Armour. She understood supply chains. She believed that the makers of N95s, anticipating the pandemic’s eventual end, would invest only so much in expanding production. She believed it was her duty, on top of risking her life for her patients, to make her disposable respirator mask last through as many 12-hour shifts as she could.

When the country was short of ventilators, the companies that made them shared their trade secrets with other manufacturers. Through the powers of the Defense Production Act, President Trump ordered General Motors to make ventilators. Other companies followed, many supported by the government, until the terrifying problem of not enough ventilators wasn’t a problem at all.

But for N95s and other respirators, Trump has used this authority far less, allowing major manufacturers to scale up as they see fit and potential new manufacturers to go untapped and underfunded. The organizations that represent millions of nurses, doctors, hospitals and clinics are pleading for more federal intervention, while the administration maintains that the government has already done enough and that the PPE industry has stepped up on its own.

As the weather cools and the death toll climbs, America’s health-care workers fear that when winter comes, they still won’t have enough respirators. And the longer the shortage lasts, the longer N95s will remain largely out of reach for millions of others who could be protected by them — teachers and day-care workers, factory employees and flight attendants, restaurant servers and grocery store clerks.

While the pandemic that has killed almost 200,000 Americans drags on, Williams will keep trying to conserve her respirator, wearing it as she rushes in and out of virus-filled rooms, touches virus-shedding patients, and now, comforts a covid-positive woman who is having a coughing fit.

“How can I help you feel a little more comfortable?” Williams asked her patient, who was in her 80s. The woman was about to be admitted to the hospital. Her oxygen level was too low, so they had to run tubes of air into her nostrils. If her situation didn’t improve, a ventilator could come next.

This was the routine in the part of the emergency department Williams called “Covidland.” She’d just risked exposure to care for this woman, but she would never get to find out what happened to her.

She could only take a deep breath through her N95, roll her patients upstairs and hope that she would never become one of them.

‘The gauntlet’

Before the N95 was on her face, it was in a plastic wrapper, in a box, on a shelf inside an East Baltimore warehouse four miles from the hospital. The 165,000-square-foot building had concrete floors, rolling doors, overhead lighting — unremarkable, except to a man named Burton Fuller.

Fuller, a 38-year-old father of three, had once planned on becoming a doctor. Instead, he ended up in working in hospital supply chains. It was the kind of job that didn’t earn many follow-up questions at dinner parties. But six months after Fuller was hired at Hopkins, the pandemic made him the person that everyone relied on and no one envied. It was up to him to keep 40,000 employees in six hospitals safe.

Even before covid-19, masks were key to that equation. There are surgical masks, which protect a patient from a nurse’s germs, and respirator masks, which protect a nurse from the patient. Humans have recognized the need for protective masks since at least A.D. 77, when Pliny the Elder wrote about wearing animal bladders as face coverings to make breathing easier in lead-filled mines.

The evolution of early masks brought leather beaks stuffed with straw and herbs to ward off the bubonic plague, and long beards that firefighters would wet and clamp between their teeth. Once the far more effective gas mask became standard for coal miners breathing in silica and soldiers facing chemical weapons, engineers at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, better known as 3M, started trying to make a protective respirator that wasn’t so bulky. They realized in the 1960s that the technology used to make pre-made gift bows could also make a mask that was a lightweight, molded cup. And so began the single-use respirator as it exists today.

Inside that cup, and more recently, inside the flat-fold versions, is the key component: fibers 1/50th the width of a human hair, blown together in an intricate web that creates an obstacle course for dangerous particles. An electrostatic charge works like a magnet to trap the floating menaces and attach them to the fibers. If an N95 is fitted properly — a metal nose piece folded snugly, no beard in the way — less than 5 percent of even the most difficult-to-catch particles will make it into the lungs.

At Hopkins, Fuller’s job was to get manufacturers to deliver N95s and other equipment directly to the warehouse, rather than through a distributor. In 2019, the shelves started to fill up, and on one of them was the N95 that would make its way to nurse Kelly Williams. The respirator had been made by 3M at a plant in Aycliffe, a town of 7,000 in northern England.

But this Hopkins stockpile was rare in the world of hospitals, where costs were cut by using medical supply companies to provide equipment when it was needed, rather than letting PPE pile up.

Hospital administrators knew that in cases of natural disaster, chemical warfare or what global health officials used to call “Disease X,” the federal government had its own warehouses in secret locations, filled with PPE.

Except that in 2009, while Fuller was in his first job out of college, the H1N1 flu epidemic depleted 85 million N95s from the national stockpile — and the supply was never replenished. In 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017, public health officials published alarming reports warning of a “massive gap” in what remained. Even more concerning, they said, the vast majority of N95s and the materials needed to manufacture them were now being made in Asia.

The Department of Health and Human Services did fund the invention of a “one-of-a-kind, high-speed machine” that could make 1.5 million N95s per day. But when the design was completed in 2018, the Trump administration did not purchase it.

This year, as the virus spread from Wuhan to Washington state, HHS turned down a January offer from a manufacturer who could to make millions of N95s. The agency didn’t start ordering N95s from multiple companies until March 21. Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at HHS, would later call that timeline “friggin’ light speed … the fastest this has ever been done.”

By then, the United States had 8,000 reported coronavirus cases and 85 deaths, and health-care workers were panicking over PPE shortages.

Fuller’s orders began being canceled. As the Hopkins emergency department was being readied for covid-19 patients, and Williams was being told she would need to start wearing an N95, the hospital’s administration decided not to reveal how many N95s were in the warehouse.

“Only a half a dozen people know,” Fuller said. “Behavioral economics say that if we communicate a number someone perceives as high, they will use the supply more gratuitously. If we communicate a number they perceive as low, they may hoard to ensure there is enough.”

As the boxes of N95s were loaded into trucks headed for Hopkins hospitals, Fuller and a dozen staff members entered what he would come to call “the gauntlet.” Every hospital and health department in the country was competing for N95s and other PPE, a mess of bidding wars, price gouging and worthless knockoff masks. Fuller uncovered one scam when a company CEO, claiming to be based in Indianapolis, didn’t recognize the name of the city’s most famous steakhouse.

“For every mask shipment we have been able to bring in,” Fuller said, “there are 10 or 15 transactions we have had to terminate.”

He worked so much that his wife, home with their children, received flowers from Hopkins executives. He joked about the other crucial stockpile in his life, his wine collection.

Fuller was desperate to make the stockpiled N95s last as long as possible. He wanted every employee wearing one to also wear a face shield, but those, too, were impossible to find.

So at the end of March, the warehouse filled with folding tables spaced six feet apart. Volunteers were given foam strips, elastic straps and sheets of plastic to make homemade shields. At one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the country, they were trying to fix the problem for themselves, with scissors, staplers and hot glue guns.

‘Bracing yourself’

A face shield was clipped to Williams’s belt in the middle of May, when for only the fourth time during the pandemic, she unwrapped a new N95.

After nine weeks in and out of Covidland, she had come to trust in her disposable respirator. It hurt her nose, gave her acne and made breathing hard. But the power of its protection was starting to give her back the feeling of safety she’d lost in March when she and the dozens of colleagues who worked alongside her each shift watched the areas where they’d cared for gunshot victims and heart attack patients turn into isolation rooms. They were tested to make sure the N95s fit their faces and taught to use other respirators that looked like gas masks or blew clean air into a hood.

And then, they were slammed. The first covid patient to go on a ventilator at Hopkins was a 40-year-old who worked out every day. The ambulance bay became a testing center. Williams’s co-workers were crying in the break room. Her patients couldn’t breathe, and then tubes were going down their throats, and then it felt like she couldn’t breathe, like everything she knew about nursing would never be enough.

“Our lives changed overnight,” she said. “You’re bracing yourself for people to die.”

She started silently saying a prayer she knew, every morning, every few hours, then sometimes 20 times a day in Covidland.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, it began. She said it before her patient started violently shaking and flailing, seizing in his bed. She couldn’t run out the door to ask for help, because to leave the room without potentially taking the virus out, she had to sanitize her gloves, trash them, take her gown off, trash it, exit into an antechamber, take off her first layer of gloves, sanitize her hands and wipe down her face shield. So she ran to the window and banged on it, then ran back to her patient, trying to hold him down, her face inches from his.

Courage, to change the things I can, the prayer continued. Williams said it in the car that she drove to work and wouldn’t let any member of her family touch. Its speakers blared Lizzo-filled playlists she used to pump herself up for what she told her friends was an “awesome learning experience.” She had been a nurse for only two years. Her job in merchandising at Under Armour had brought her to Baltimore, where she met her husband, Sean, and his two children. They were the ones to make her realize that she wanted a job where she could actually see the impact of all those hours she worked. Now, every day might be the day she took the virus home to them.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage, to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Another day in Covidland, and Williams was wearing her new N95, pumping her palms into an unconscious man’s chest, not thinking of all the particles flying out of his airways. Another, and her face shield popped off and clattered to the floor. Another, and a young Latina mother told Williams she couldn’t self-quarantine because she could not afford to stay home from work.

Another, and Williams was watching the chest of a middle-aged man rise and fall by the force of a ventilator. Outside the walls of the hospital on this day in July, America seemed to have moved on from the conversation about the shortage of N95s. Instead, people were fighting over simple cloth masks.

Maybe this patient had worn one. Maybe he’d said he didn’t believe in them. Either way, it was her job to take care of him. Williams suctioned virus-filled fluid from his airways, and breathed in again.

‘Not profitable’

The radio advertisements could be heard across South Dakota, playing inside cars passing billboards plastered with the same message: 3M is hiring in Aberdeen. In a state that hosted 460,000 people at an August motorcycle rally and requires no one to wear a mask sits the largest respirator plant in the United States.

Its N95 manufacturing lines have been running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since Jan. 21, the same day public health officials announced the arrival of the coronavirus in Washington state.

Plant manager Andy Rehder hired 200 new employees this year and was still looking for more this summer so he could staff another N95 line being built. Rehder, whose wife wears an N95 as a hospital social worker, had a Bloomberg Magazine article from March displayed in his office. The headline asked, “How do you make more masks yesterday?”

The question still hangs over the plant, and the entire country, nearly six months after that article was published.

Ask the Trump administration, and the N95 shortage is nearly solved. Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, whom Trump put in charge of securing PPE, said that by December, 160 million N95s will be made in the United States per month. By his calculations, that will be enough to handle a “peak surge” from hospitals, clinics, independent physicians, nursing homes, dentists and first responders. The Strategic National Stockpile has 60 million N95s on hand, and states are rebuilding their stockpiles.

“I’ve got production up to what we think is the limits of what we need,” Polowczyk said. “I believe now that hospital systems are making management decisions that might lead to an appearance that we still don’t have masks, which is the farthest from the truth.”

But ask the people inside hospitals, and the shortage is far from over. An August survey of 21,500 nurses showed 68 percent of them are required to reuse respirators, many for more than the five times recommended by the CDC, and some even more than Kelly Williams. One Texas nurse reported she’s still wearing the same five N95s she was given in March.

Many health-care facilities that ordered KN95s, Chinese-made masks meant to have a similar filtering efficiency, gave up on them after realizing that the looser fit left workers in danger. The N95 shortage is more acute for primary care physicians, home health aides and hospice workers. But even for many hospital systems, the situation remains “fragile and challenging,” the American Hospital Association said this month.

“Maddening, frustrating, mind-blowing, aggravating, that’s the polite language for it,” said American Medical Association President Susan Bailey, who still hears from doctors who do not have respirators. “There has been such an outpouring for support for ‘health-care heroes.’ Everybody knows now how important it is for our front-line health-care workers to be able to work in a safe environment. … And yet, that desire doesn’t seem to be turning into a reality.”

The AMA, AHA, American Nurses Association and the AFL-CIO all point to the same solution: broader use of the Defense Production Act, which gives the president power over funding for the production and distribution of critical supplies during crises.

In August, Trump stood before a group of socially distanced reporters, praising himself for using the DPA “more comprehensively than any president in history.”

“There was a time,” he said, “when the media would say, ‘Why aren’t you using it? Why aren’t you using it?’ Well, we have used it a lot, where necessary. Only where necessary.”

That’s not what it looks like to the man who used to run Trump’s DPA program within the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Larry Hall, who retired last year, said the authority has been executed in an “ad hoc, haphazard fashion.”

Along with ordering 3M to import 166.5 million masks from China, the administration has used the DPA to invest $296.9 million in bolstering the N95 and filter-making supply chains. The Department of Defense, which oversees that funding, spends more per year on instruments, uniforms and travel for military bands.

“By not having a national strategy,” Hall said, “we have fewer masks.”

Ask the PPE industry and the refrain is that without long-term guarantees that the government will keep buying respirators, N95 manufacturers are wary of investing too much, and other companies that could start making respirators or the filters for them are hesitant to do so.

Peter Tsai, the scientist who invented a method to charge the fibers inside the respirator filter, knows why: “It is not profitable to make respirators in the United States,” he said. It can take six months just to create one manufacturing line that makes the N95′s filter.

But there is a workaround, Tsai said. Companies that already make similar filters — for vehicle emissions, air pollution and water systems — can modify their equipment to make N95 filters.

While Tsai, 68, has been fielding hundreds of calls from hospitals and researchers trying to sanitize N95s with heat and ultraviolet light, he has been working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to woo the 15 to 20 American companies that have the potential to produce respirator filters more quickly.

The government has funded just three of these companies through the DPA.

Others have gradually joined in on their own. But then those filters have to be made into respirators, and those respirators have to be approved by NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The entire process has moved at a glacial pace in comparison with the flurry of activity that rid the country of its ventilator shortage. Ventec, a company known for its efficient, toaster-size ventilators, handed its plans over to General Motors so that the auto company, under the DPA, could mass produce a product that was known to work. Other ventilator companies followed, handing over their trade secrets to Ford, Foxconn and other major manufacturers.

But when GM started making N95s, engineers with expertise in car interiors and air bags were charged with figuring out the process from scratch, the company said. Although they received advice from major mask makers, there were no groundbreaking corporate partnerships this time. The first N95s GM made were rejected by NIOSH. The second design didn’t correctly fit most people.

Other potential manufacturers went through the same challenges as GM, failing tests and making flat-fold N95s that experts worry do not offer a tight enough seal.

“If there was some kind of intellectual sharing, they wouldn’t be doing that,” said Christopher Coffey, who was the associate director for science in the NIOSH approvals program before retiring in January.

The DPA does have a provision that would allow manufacturers to work together without being subject to antitrust laws. But it has yet to be

Instead, established U.S. makers of N95s, whose products have been successfully protecting miners, construction workers and health-care professionals for decades, have continued to protect their processes as intellectual property.

Though 3M helped Ford make the far more expensive powered respirators, which blow clean air into a hood, the company has not entered into any major partnerships with outside manufacturers to make N95s. Asked why, 3M declined to explain, instead pointing to its other pandemic partnerships.

Ford gained its own approval to manufacture disposable respirators but has made just 16,000 of them while focusing instead on face shields and surgical masks. Other major U.S. manufacturers of N95s, including Honeywell and Moldex, have kept their manufacturing in-house, too.

“Folks aren’t likely to share that information outside of their own company,” said Jeff Peterson, who now oversees NIOSH approvals. NIOSH employees may know how 3M makes its respirators and the filters inside them. But by contract, they can’t tell other manufacturers how to do the same.

Meanwhile, 3M continues to dominate the American N95 market. While other parts of its business, such as office supplies and industrial adhesives, have struggled during the pandemic, 3M has invested $100 million to expand domestic production of respirators from 22 million to 50 million per month. Once the new production line is up and running in South Dakota in October, that number is expected to reach 95 million per month in the United States.

It still won’t be enough.

“Even though we are making more respirators than ever before and have dramatically increased production,” 3M spokeswoman Jennifer Ehrlich said, “the demand is more than we, and the entire industry, can supply for the foreseeable future.”

‘I just don’t get it’

Her N95 was already on, but Williams’s hands were slipping as she tried to force on a pair of gloves. She could hear the alarms going off. One of her patients was crashing, and she had to get into the room.

She should be able to just go, her runner’s legs carrying her to the bedside. But in Covidland, there were two closed doors standing in her way. She had started wearing her N95 all day so she could be ready for this moment. She pulled on her gown and another set of gloves and her face shield, reached for the door — and realized the patient inside was her 13-year-old stepson Kellen.

She jolted awake. She was in her bed. Her husband was asleep beside her. She slid out from her sheets and went downstairs to check on her stepchildren. Kellen and 19-year-old Alle were sleeping, too.

The nurse inhaled. She could still hear the alarms.

This is what it meant now, to be a health-care worker: across the country, nurses and doctors were reporting increased sleeplessness, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.

Williams reminded herself that she’d always had an N95, and the heavier, more protective respirators she sometimes wore instead.

But she knew, too, that covid-19 had taken the lives of more than 1,000 health-care workers, including a New Jersey primary care doctor who, determined to keep his practice open, doubled up on surgical masks when his N95 orders didn’t come. And a California nurse who rushed into a covid patient’s room to perform chest compressions. She saved his life, then doused her hair in hand sanitizer. She hadn’t been given an N95 at the beginning of her shift.

And then there was the news that shook every health-care worker Williams knew: Less than two miles from Hopkins, the head of the ICU at Mercy Hospital died after contracting the virus in July.

Joseph Costa was one of the people who’d guided the hospital through its PPE shortage early in the pandemic. His husband, David Hart, remembered him coming home and saying, “This is my mask for the week.” Neighbors pushed N95s through their mailbox slot.

“This is the United States of America, and we can’t seem to get factories built to deliver this stuff? I just don’t get it,” Hart said.

He will never know exactly how his husband, who insisted on caring for covid patients alongside his staff, became infected. Costa died in the ICU, the gloved hands of his colleagues on him as he went. Minutes later, they returned to caring for other patients.

At Mercy, at Hopkins, at every hospital that had found a way to get N95s, health-care workers wore their PPE to try to save the lives of people who contracted the virus because they had none.

Williams and her colleagues didn’t need to see the statistics to know that the pandemic was disproportionately affecting Black and Brown people, especially those deemed essential workers. They saw it in their patients and heard it from their families and friends.

Williams worked side by side with Shanika Young, a nurse whose brother seemed to have every known covid-19 symptom before he started to recover.

Afraid of infecting anyone in her community, Young went weeks without seeing her parents and newborn niece. She adopted a hound-mix puppy to have a friend when she couldn’t see her own. In the weeks that followed the killing of George Floyd, she agonized over her decision to stay away from the protests. She knew there wouldn’t be N95s there.

On a sweltering August morning, she left her dog in her apartment and packed her respirator in her car. She, too, re-wore her mask, but usually for four or five 12-hours shifts.

Now Young was taking it across Baltimore, not toward the hospital, but to a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood with one of the worst infection rates in the city.

During the pandemic, Baltimore has seen outbreaks in its homeless shelters, its trash-collecting facility and its jail. Now every place Young drove by fell on one side or the other of a new dividing line in America: those who have PPE and those who don’t. Bodegas, restaurants, nail salons and funeral homes. Downtown, a nonprofit’s dental clinic remained shuttered. She passed a mental health counseling center where sessions were still conducted only by video, and a physical therapist who wore KN95s to see clients. She parked near a school that, without N95s, had no way of ensuring its teachers were protected. It serves primarily Latino children, all of whom would be forced to learn online.

In the parking lot of the church, a booth that used to sell $1 snow cones had been transformed into a coronavirus testing center run by a team of Hopkins doctors and nurses.

On her day off, Young volunteered to work with them, spending hours sweating in her scrubs, sending swabs deep into nose after nose. She wore a surgical mask on top of her N95.

“I don’t think there’s any science that says this is actually safer,” she said. “But it’s just a mental thing.”

The line of people sweating on the asphalt was so long, Young couldn’t see the people at the end: a man in painter’s clothes, a mother pushing a stroller and a woman who, like Young, was wearing scrubs. Stitched onto the chest was the name of a retirement home.

‘Hazard’

The coughing patient was starting to fall asleep when Williams left her in the covid unit. Her shift had been over for more than 30 minutes. She checked in to make sure there was no one else who needed her help and headed for the locker room. She washed her hands twice. She used alcohol wipes to sanitize her phone, glasses, ID badges and pens.

She took off her N95, and she inhaled.

For the first time in two months, she decided that this respirator was done. Its straps were starting to feel too stretched. The shape of it looked just a little too warped.

Instead of hanging the N95 from a hook in her locker to air dry, she stuffed it in a bag marked “hazard.”

A new mask, still in its plastic packaging, was waiting for her next shift. She would wear it as long as possible, especially after learning that the Hopkins stockpile had run out of the British-made mask she wore and couldn’t get any more. She needed to change to a different type of N95, one that felt unfamiliar once again. She told herself that she was grateful just to have it. She told herself that it would protect her just the same.

Taken From: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/local/news/n-95-shortage-covid/

Global firms expected to sue UK for coronavirus losses

Dispute settlement clauses in trade agreements open way for investors to demand compensation for lockdowns

Coronavirus-could-impede-US-trade-with-China-experts-say

Governments around the world – including the UK – face a wave of lawsuits from foreign companies who complain that their profits have been hit by the pandemic.

Webinars and presentations shared with clients reveal that leading global law firms anticipate governments around the world will soon face claims over their response to the Covid-19 crisis. The actions are being brought under investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses which are embedded in trade and investment agreements and allow foreign investors and firms to sue other countries’ governments.

The claims are heard in highly secretive ad hoc tribunals before a panel of three judges. Often it is not apparent that a case is being brought until the panel sits.

The law firm Alston & Bird used a recent webinar to predict that the UK will be sued over Sadiq Khan’s decision to close Crossrail construction sites during the pandemic. The decision was at odds with the government’s policy of allowing sites to operate throughout lockdown, an inconsistency that they say opens up the way for a legal challenge.

Law firm Reed Smith has predicted that measures taken by governments to deal with the crisis are affecting investments “directly and significantly and could give rise to substantial claims”.

And Ropes & Gray has issued an alert advising clients to consider actions brought under investment treaties as “a powerful tool to recover or prevent loss resulting from Covid-19-related government actions”.

There are particular concerns about claims being brought against governments in the developing world.

More than 600 civil society groups in 90 countries have written an open letter sounding the alarm. Signatories include Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), SumOfUs and Global Justice Now. They warn at a “time when government resources are stretched to the limit in responding to the crisis, public money should not be diverted from saving lives, jobs and livelihoods into paying ISDS awards or legal fees to fight a claim”.

And they predict that a spate of cases now could result in a “regulatory chilling effect, in which governments water down, postpone or withdraw actions to tackle the pandemic for fear they will be sued”.

Countries including El Salvador and Bolivia have allowed citizens to delay payments for services such as water and electricity. Law firm Hogan Lovells has issued a client alert suggesting that foreign-owned utility companies could sue for lost revenue in such cases.

“Clearly, companies shouldn’t sue countries over emergency measures to save lives in a global pandemic, and we shouldn’t sign trade agreements that let them,” said Sondhya Gupta, UK campaign manager at SumOfUs. “We know lower-income countries are struggling most to contain the virus. The threat of rich corporations bullying them out of badly needed public funds to ‘compensate’ them for profit losses will further hamper efforts to fight the virus and add to the burden on future generations.”

Jean Blaylock, campaigns and policy manager at Global Justice Now, said the corporate courts which heard the claims often made awards far higher than those made by national courts. Of the more than 1,000 ISDS cases known to have been brought before the pandemic, 13 resulted in awards or settlements of more than US$1bn.

By the end of 2018, a raft of governments around the world had been ordered, or had agreed, to pay investors in publicly known ISDS cases a total of $88bn.

But there are now concerns Covid-19 will spark a claims bonanza which will benefit major law firms both bringing and defending the claims. “We have already heard of the threat of a case in Peru where the government there ordered toll roads to stop collecting tolls,” Blaylock said. “The government was worried that the act of taking money could be a way of spreading the pandemic.”

Blaylock added: “Why would a corporation sue? It seems so unreasonable, yet when you read the material from the law firms, to them it’s completely normal and they are expecting this to happen. They recognise there are incredibly valid public health needs, but they also understand that these courts are designed only to look at the interests of investors.”

Taken From: https://www.theguardian.com/

Supply chain disruptions, sanctions threaten school shortage of 5 million laptops

The three biggest computer companies in the world — Lenovo, HP and Dell — have told U.S. school districts they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops due to supply chain disruptions and sanctions on China, according to an AP investigation.

annie-spratt-__b279kVy0c-unsplash

Why it matters: With many districts choosing fully remote or hybrid learning models, many fear the shortfall and delays of up to several months in receiving orders of the computers could exacerbate inequities in the classroom.

Between the lines: In some cases, the problem has been made worse by the Trump administration’s sanctions on Chinese suppliers, which have affected the manufacturer of several models of Lenovo laptops.

  • In a letter to customers, the company said the ban will add several weeks to the delays, AP reports. The company has a backlog of more than 3 million Chromebooks.
  • The sanctions affect companies implicated in forced labor and human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang, which has been the target of demographic genocide carried out by the Chinese government.

The big picture: Some of the nation’s largest school districts are still waiting on orders of laptops or hotspots, including Los Angeles; Clark County, Nevada; Wake County, North Carolina; Houston; Palm Beach, Florida; and Hawaii.

  • The Denver school district, the largest in Colorado, is waiting on some 12,500 Lenovo Chromebooks it ordered in April and May. It will be about 3,000 devices short when school starts Wednesday.

What they’re saying:

  • Matt Bartenhagen, IT director for Williston Public Schools in North Dakota, told AP: “It’s a tough one because I’m not condoning child slave labor for computers, but can we not hurt more children in the process? They were supposed to be delivered in July. Then August. Then late August. The current shipping estimate is ‘hopefully’ by the end of the year.”
  • Tom Baumgarten, superintendent of the Morongo Unified School District in California, said, “This is going to be like asking an artist to paint a picture without paint. You can’t have a kid do distance learning without a computer.”

Taken From: https://www.axios.com/

FDA creates first-ever medical supply shortage list including masks, swabs and ventilators

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Friday that it has created its first list of medical supplies that are facing a shortage just hours after President Trump touted the administration’s production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other devices.

pexels-karolina-grabowska-4197562

In an effort to prevent stockpiling or hoarding of supplies, the list does not reveal the product manufacturers, but lists that ventilators, respirators, masks, surgical gowns, gloves and sterile swabs are on short supply.

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the list is meant to help the industry prevent supply disruption in the midst of the pandemic.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, the federal government has taken great strides to meet the nation’s critical medical supply needs, and at this time, all requests have been filled or are being filled, while additional requests from states are minimal,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement.

“The FDA provided a device shortage list as part of the implementation of section 506J of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, signed into law as part of the CARES Act. Under section 506J, manufacturers of certain devices must notify the FDA of an interruption or permanent discontinuance in manufacturing,” the statement continued. “The shortage list was never intended to indicate there is a shortage of PPE or equipment to support patients, but allows for transparency to the public and stakeholders about devices.”

The new list comes as cases of COVID-19 see spikes nationwide and record-breaking counts are reported weekly in different states.

This week the U.S. saw its deadliest day in months as more than 1,500 died of the coronavirus on Wednesday, with the total deaths as of Friday topping 168,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. In total, there are more than 5.2 million coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Earlier at a press briefing on Friday, Trump praised the work to increase the Strategic National Stockpile’s supply of some of the products that made the FDA list.

“We have tripled the number of N95 masks on hand to over 40 million, tripled the number of gowns to over 15 million and quadrupled the number of ventilators to 69,000,” Trump said.

PPE supply shortages were commonly reported at the start of the virus, but lockdown efforts and the administration’s use of the Defense Production Act led to a slowdown of hospitalizations and an increase in crucial supplies. Still, some rural hospitals and other health care groups have said they have struggled to keep key supplies in stock.

In early July, a top nurses union warned that the start of new outbreaks could mean more shortages like the ones seen at the start of the pandemic.

“We’re five months into this and there are still shortages of gowns, hair covers, shoe covers, masks, N95 masks,” Deborah Burger, president of National Nurses United, said at the time. “I think overall, production, distribution and access has improved … the fear is that we will become complacent.”

Taken From: https://thehill.com/

Reps. García, Schakowsky, and 107 Members of Congress Urge Mexican President López Obrador to Drop Charges Against Activist and Protect Labor Rights

Today Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), and 107 Members of Congress sent a letter to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urging him to ensure Mexican state governments drop politically motivated charges against labor lawyer Susana Prieto Terrazas.

download

The letter also urges Mexico to ensure states comply with the labor rights guaranteed by the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”).

The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, implemented on July 1 of this year, requires each of its signatory countries to respect workers’ rights. Last year, Mexico passed labor law reforms that strengthen collective bargaining and independent unions in the country.

Susana Prieto Terrazas, a Mexican labor rights activist, was imprisoned in June by the state government of Tamaulipas after years of organizing along the US-Mexico border. She was released on conditions that prevent her from continuing labor advocacy and require her to move to the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where the government has issued a warrant for her arrest.

“To protect workers’ rights in the United States, we must defend the rights of workers around the world and in Mexico. I’m sending a letter with more than 100 colleagues to call on Mexican President López Obrador to ensure that Mexico respects workers’ rights and ends its political persecution of labor activist Susana Prieto Terrazas,” said Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García. “American legislators cannot stay silent while corporate interests and corrupt politicians undermine the law to extract profits at the expense of working people. When the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement passed Congress, we were told it would protect workers’ rights and labor standards in the US and Mexico. But if state governments in Mexico can willfully violate basic labor rights provided by Mexican law and affirmed by the USMCA, these protections are meaningless.”

“Mexico must live up to its obligations under the USMCA and enforce labor laws completely and uniformly throughout the country,” Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said. “Anything less than this is unacceptable, will render these labor protections meaningless, and will require action by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the U.S. as well as my counterparts in Mexico to strengthen workers’ protections across North America.”

The rights of workers across North America must be enforced, including in Mexico, said Congressman Joaquin Castro, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Vice Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) has new labor provisions to guarantee worker’s rights to organize for better conditions and higher wages, and must be respected. The United States Congress needs to ensure our trading partners live up to their commitments to expand the rights of workers.”

A PDF of the letter can be found here.

Taken From: https://www.citizen.org/

 

Surgical gowns cost my hospital 40 cents before the pandemic. Now they’re $9.

Hospitals have had to turn to domestic suppliers for masks and other equipment, putting them in greater financial jeopardy.

pexels-evg-culture-4066427

More than 16.5 million people around the world have been infected by the coronavirus, and the numbers continue to rise steadily. The pandemic has severely disrupted almost every aspect of the global economy, including the global supply chain. Across the world, factories have shut down or slowed production; countries have restricted exports and imports; and transportation has slowed or halted.

While this turmoil has affected many industries, America’s health care system has been hit especially hard. Over the past two decades, US health care has come to rely heavily on international suppliers, especially in China, for thousands of essential products, from surgical gowns to syringes. In fact, as of 2019, the US was the largest importer of medical goods — including of personal protective products — in the world.

Over the past few months as the pandemic raged, most US hospitals and health systems have responded by turning to domestic suppliers. They are more reliable given the difficulties with transportation and trade, which have become worse since the pandemic began.

This trend is likely to continue, as hospitals and health care systems try to ensure that they have a steady supply of essential products.

But this new domestic strategy has a particular disadvantage: In general, it is much more expensive. And this puts hospitals — and, potentially, their patients — in greater financial jeopardy.

Higher domestic prices are likely due to a combination of the increased costs of manufacturing in the US, as well as the booming demand that has outpaced supply. For example, in December, Johns Hopkins Medicine, where I oversee the supply chain, was paying 40 cents for a gown from our supplier in China. We are now paying $9 per gown from a domestic supplier. That’s more than 20 times the former price — all at a time when we need more gowns than ever. This change has the potential to significantly increase health care costs and will only add to the existing strain on health care providers, health insurers, and consumers.

Right now, increased supply costs may not seem like the most important health care issue we face. And it’s not. The immediate task of saving lives obviously takes precedence over all other concerns.

But to save lives, we need personal protective equipment, we need tubing, we need gowns. And we also need to be able to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of our institutions. Without a reliable, affordable supply of a range of products, we can’t properly care for our patients, both those with Covid-19 and those with other health problems.

How the medical supply crisis got so bad

The current supply problems began in January. With the initial coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan and the realization that it would likely spread globally, hospitals around the world began to stock up on supplies, which decreased their availability. Beyond the overall turmoil brought on by the pandemic, China took additional steps to protect itself that further obstructed the supply chain.

In February, to ensure that the country had adequate domestic supply, the Chinese government took over the production and distribution of medical products. China was not the only country to do this, but because it is a leading global supplier of so many health care products — personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks, medical devices, antibiotics, and pharmaceutical ingredients, to name a few — the decision had major consequences. In 2019 alone, China supplied a quarter of the entire globe’s face masks.

According to the Congressional Research Service, which earlier this year published a report on US imports of medical supplies, China exported in 2019 nearly $21 billion in pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and health care products to the US. There are no figures yet for 2020, but health care imports from China will almost certainly drop significantly.

For some products, US reliance on China was particularly high. Last year, the US imported $1.9 billion in PPE from China, about 30 percent of our total PPE imports.

China’s response is understandable; it was dealing with a significant disease outbreak. But in the US, this move kicked off shortages of PPE, as well as some medicines, and other important health care products — shortages from which we haven’t yet recovered.

Can we fix the supply problem before the pandemic ends?

China seems to have its outbreak relatively under control, and it has now somewhat eased limits on exports of medical supplies. This is good news, but the steps so far will not meet the overall increased demand.

The pandemic will continue to wreak havoc with logistics, creating bottlenecks that have slowed the movement of supplies. Pandemic restrictions, in particular physical distancing, slow down almost every part of the process, especially production. And some of our suppliers tell us that they are starting to see shortages in the raw materials they need for production, such as the material typically used to make isolation gowns. So it’s likely that health care providers will continue to rely more on domestic suppliers.

There are some benefits to this turn to US supplies. The route from factory to bedside is more stable, and providers are helping to support US workers and the US economy.

But at the same time, the higher costs are putting pressure on health care; even before the pandemic, most providers were striving to cut budgets. Those pressures will only grow: The pandemic has increased costs at many hospitals (see: the huge increase in the costs of medical gowns), while also reducing revenue due to the enormous number of appointments and elective procedures (which usually generate a substantial amount of a health care systems’ income) that have been canceled and postponed.

So what can we do? I don’t have all the answers, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone does. The first step is to raise awareness of the problem.

On the ground, a potential solution is to return to reusable supplies. Over the past two decades, most hospitals replaced many reusable products with disposables. Johns Hopkins, and I suspect many other systems, will reconsider that choice. And we can do more to conserve supplies, using them carefully and only when necessary.

Federal and state governments can help by ensuring that domestic product manufacturers aren’t unfairly raising prices, as has apparently occurred in some places. They could also provide financial and logistical support to health care providers so they can better manage higher supply costs.

As this situation continues to evolve, the health care system and its partners will need to develop creative solutions to help ensure that hospitals can continue to afford to keep everyone safe.

Taken From: https://www.vox.com/

Flooding in China disrupts medical, PPE suppliers. Shippers should expect delays

UPDATE: July 23, 2020: The China Meteorological Administration said multiple regions — from Sichuan in the southwest and Gansu in the northwest — face an increased risk from natural disasters in the coming days as record-breaking rainfall hits the country, according to Reuters.

453f688a82a2bad410bacd30e60d4232

“The current flood control situation remains severe and cannot be relaxed in any way,” The Ministry of Water Resources said, Reuters reported Thursday.

“The areas impacted by the flood are mainly rural areas; so no major manufactory bases were affected and impacts to shippers are minor,” according to a statement from Siewloong Wong, Kuehne+Nagel’s regional manager for Asia Pacific.

Dive Brief:

  • Close to 30 of the more than 1,800 supplier sites monitored by Resilinc in the Chinese regions of Anhui, Hubei, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang have been impacted by flooding that hit the country last week and early this week, according to a statement provided by Resilinc. China’s rainy season started June 1.
  • “Business activities and infrastructure in Xiantao and Wuhan in the Hubei province are experiencing severe disruptions to global supply chains for medical components, protective equipment, and non-woven fabric products, among others,” a spokesperson for Resilinc told Supply Chain Dive in an email.
  • Dealmed, a U.S. medical supplier, told Reuters the flooding was “creating another major roadblock here in terms of PPE getting into the United States.”

Dive Insight:

After days of rain, meteorologists expect the cascade to continue throughout the week. China’s National Meteorological Center anticipates between 4 and 6 inches of rain from Tuesday to Thursday in Sichuan, Anhui, Hubei and Henan provinces, according to the Nikkei Asain Review. The country’s flood warning system is currently set to red, its highest level, the report said.

The rain has had an impact on carrier operations as well, but the situation is reportedly improving. Reefer plugs were hard to come by, impacting the flow of refrigerated goods.

“Import container pick-up activities have been severely impacted and as a result reefer plugs are highly utilized especially at the port of Yantian and Ningbo,” Hapag-Lloyd said in a note to customers. “We seek your assistance to pick-up your container as soon as released by customs.”

Maersk said it had several inland terminals suspend operations as a result of the flooding in Anhui and Jiangxi provinces.

“The situation is improving, as the water recedes,” a spokesperson for Maersk told Supply Chain Dive in an email. “Right now, only one terminal, a common user facility in Anqing in the Anhui province on the Yangtze River, is operationally suspended. The other affected inland terminals are operating with slightly lower productivities.”

Shippers should expect some delays in the impacted region, C.H. Robinson told Supply Chain Dive.

“C.H. Robinson is noticing port closures and disruptions in some ports along the Yangtze river due to recent severe flooding,” John Chen, the vice president of Global Forwarding Asia at C.H. Robinson, told Supply Chain Dive in an email. “Ports in Anhui and Hubei provinces are impacted with equipment issues as well as feeder and haulage delays while ports in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces are functioning normally.”

A spokesperson for DSV said the floods “haven’t caused any major disruptions” to the company’s supply chain.

The economic impact of the flooding could reach $12 billion, according to an estimate cited by Nikkei.

Taken From: https://www.supplychaindive.com/news

Deeply Entrenched Corruption Will Hinder USMCA

The case of an imprisoned and then exiled labor attorney in Mexico speaks to the continued oppression of workers by multinational corporations.

download

In one tumultuous week in early July, we saw Donald Trump commute the sentence of his crony who has openly confessed to committing multiple felonies and celebrate the implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) with the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Meanwhile, under López Obrador’s watch,Mexican labor lawyer Susana Prieto Terrazas recently spent nearly a month in a dangerous Mexican jail during a global pandemic for the crime of helping workers organize an independent, democratic union. And she continues to fear for her life despite committing no crimes whatsoever.

More than the revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) connects the United States and Mexico. The rule of law in both of our countries is in crisis. Corporations and cronies are winning, and workers losing.

Last year, Mexico passed labor law reforms to replace corrupt “protection” unions aligned with maquiladora employers with independent unions, and to vote on collective-bargaining contracts so workers can finally win higher wages and standards of living. For U.S. workers, these reforms could help level the playing field and stop middle-class jobs from being outsourced. Unfortunately, there is no viable enforcement mechanism, not from the Mexican government, nor the USMCA.

How do I know this? Because the federal government in Mexico has done nothing to undo the corrupt decision that put Prieto Terrazas in jail on trumped-up charges, after filing proof of replacing a protection (read: corrupt) union with an independent one, influenced by two right-wing state governors working in lockstep with phony union bosses. In fact, the USMCA entered into effect on the same day extreme conditions were imposed in exchange for Prieto Terrazas’s release from jail. She has been forcibly removed from one of the states where she organizes, prohibited from visiting Labor Court, and required to pay reparations based on unjustified charges, claiming she caused emotional trauma during a protest at which she wasn’t even present!

The grim future of labor rights in Mexico will mean continued outsourcing of U.S. jobs across the border, where workers will continue to toil in poverty.

Barred from that state, Prieto Terrazas cannot represent thousands of her clients, where she serves an instrumental role in helping workers who are often unaware that they even have rights that are being violated, especially in a pandemic. Not only does her arrest hinder her own ability to help workers organize, bargain collectively, and know their basic rights, but it has a chilling effect on anyone who wants to exercise their own rights or help workers do the same.

While the situation sends a warning to workers in Mexico, it also extends an open invitation to multinationals looking for a market where they can exploit cheap labor. Consider U.S. auto firms’ announcements of plans to increase production in Mexico, like Ford’s decision to make its new Mustang electric SUV there, while GM has closed U.S. plants and moved many of its most popular vehicles’ lines to Mexico. Changes to Mexican autoworker wages were supposed to be one of the major advances of the USMCA. But as it stands, the grim future of labor rights in Mexico will mean continued outsourcing of U.S. jobs across the border, where workers will continue to toil in poverty. Sadly, there is no indication that the USMCA will restore hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, as Trump nonsensically claims.

If we want to give the USMCA the best shot at being effective, we must confront squarely the first problems that arise in its implementation—and this case represents a very, very big problem. We must address the ineffective legal system in Mexico that protects a corrupt, entrenched labor structure. The prospect of working with a U.S. administration hell-bent on protecting its own corruption seems dismal, but I will keep sounding the alarm until there is someone in power who will listen.

Taken From:https://prospect.org/

FEMA head: ‘We have a ways to go’ on having enough PPE

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) told Congress on Wednesday the country has “a ways to go” on getting enough protective equipment for health workers fighting coronavirus, though he said the situation has been improving.

pete-gaynor-gty-rc-200321_hpMain_16x9_1600

“I want to be clear: We have a ways to go on making sure we have enough PPE,” Administrator Pete Gaynor said at a congressional hearing, referring to personal protective equipment. “This is not as simple as just throwing a light switch and we just magically make more.”

Hospitals and doctors have been reporting shortages of masks, gowns and other protective equipment for months as the pandemic rages.

Gaynor testified that many states are reporting they now have stockpiles of equipment that could last 60 or 90 days or more.

But Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Gaynor that lawmakers are still hearing about shortages of the equipment from hospitals in their districts.

As cases rise, Gaynor acknowledged there would be more stress on the system.

“Now there may be shortages, micro-shortages across the country based on COVID-19 cases, increased hospitalizations,” he said, adding hospitals should work with state emergency response officials and FEMA to acquire more PPE if they cannot from their normal supplier.

Particularly in the early days of the pandemic, President Trump resisted using the full powers of the federal government to increase production of PPE, for example by fully using the Defense Production Act.

“We’re not shipping clerks,” Trump said in March, adding each governor is responsible for their states’ equipment needs.

The administration has since taken some steps, like announcing a deal in April with the manufacturer 3M for increased mask production.

But the American Medical Association (AMA) called on the Trump administration at the end of June to more fully use the Defense Production Act to increase production of equipment, saying some doctors offices are having trouble reopening because they do not have the proper protective equipment.

“As the AMA continues to communicate with physicians during the pandemic, they tell us the biggest challenge to reopening their practices is the ongoing shortages of PPE, especially N95 masks and gowns,” the letter to Vice President Pence said.

Gaynor said Wednesday the underlying issue is that the United States does not make most PPE and is reliant on other countries.

“We still have many months to go before we start making enough in the US to supply the demand and as cases grow in the Sun Belt, the demand goes up,” he said.

He added that “the place we are in today is much better than we were 60 days ago.”

“We’re not going to buy our way out of this with just money,” he noted. “We’re going to have to improve the industrial base to make these critical items in the US so we’re not at the whim of our global competitors.”

Taken From:https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/

Hyperglobalization Undermines Response to COVID-19 Crisis

Latest Data Reveal Growing U.S. Trade Deficits in Ventilators, Masks and Other Coronavirus-Related Gear as Shortages Reemerge, Reflecting U.S. Overreliance on Imported Goods to Battle Pandemic

download

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch today released an updated series of trade flow and country-of-origin data infographics on medical goods used to battle COVID-19 ahead of tomorrow’s U.S. House Ways & Means Committee hearing on critical supply chains, trade and manufacturing.

 

The newest feature is:

 

  • Data on which foreign countries provided what share of U.S. imports of various categories of medicines.

 

In addition, the web feature includes updated data showing:

 

  • The U.S. has grown even more dependent on imports from China and the rest of the world for key medical goodsduring the COVID-19 era as the U.S.-China and U.S.-world deficits in key medical goods increased through May 2020 (latest data available as of July 2020);

 

  • U.S. exports of masks and ventilators to the world continued to spikethrough May 2020 after a major increase in U.S. exports of critical medical goods to China when U.S. domestic demand was highest in January-March 2020; and
  • How the sources of medical goods imported into the U.S.have shifted over time. (Wherever possible, we use data showing volume, rather than value. Volume more accurately represents what goods are being traded while the value data often reflects distortions in prices caused by transfer pricing and other corporate tax manipulations.)

 

Decades of hyperglobalization have undermined our resilience against the COVID-19 crisis. Even into summer 2020, the U.S. still cannot make or get critical goods people need with shortages again emerging of personal protective equipment (PPE) as infection rates rise. More than 40,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities have been lost to 25 years of corporate-rigged trade policies that made it easier and less risky to move production overseas to pay workers less and trash the environment.

 

Having the world’s largest trade deficit year after year means the U.S. is extremely reliant on other countries to provide essential goods. As the COVID-19 crisis emerged in early 2020, U.S. government officials urged U.S. firms to expand exports to China of the limited U.S. domestic production of key medical goods instead of considering U.S. residents’ needs. Effective implementation of the Defense Production Act (DPA)to purchase and domestically allocate PPE, ventilators and more would have preempted the export frenzy we see in the data. Unfortunately, Americans are still in the dark about the extent to which these critical emergency powers have been used to control exports of critical supplies.

 

After decades of outsourcing and corporations buying up competitors to consolidate control of production sectors and shuttering “redundant” production facilities, many critical goods are now mainly made in one or two countries. When workers there fall ill or governments prioritize their own peoples’ needs before exporting goods away, a worldwide shortage of masks, gloves, medicine and more can quickly develop.

 

And, under current practices and policies, it’s hard to quickly increase production. Long, thin globalized supply chains mean parts needed to make any one product may come from dozens of countries. If one link in the chain breaks because it is difficult to source inputs and components from a specific country or region, it becomes impossible to scale up domestic production during a crisis. And, monopoly patent protections in many trade agreements expose countries to sanctions if they produce medicine, ventilators and more without approval by and payment to pharmaceutical and other firms.

 

With policymakers and the public distracted, corporate lobbyists are pushing for more of the same trade policies that hatched the unreliable supply chains now failing us all. Instead, we must fundamentally Rethink Trade. The goals should be healthy, resilient communities and economic well-being for more people – not the current priority of maximizing corporate profits.

Taken From: https://www.citizen.org/

Transatlantic letter on this week’s US-UK trade negotiations

With Trade Talks Starting, U.S. and UK Unions and Public Interest Groups Demand a Deal that Puts People and the Planet First in Letter to Trade Ministers

StopSecretTradeDeals-115x115

For Immediate Release

Contact: Arthur Stamoulis (Citizens Trade Campaign), 202-494-8826 or arthur@citizenstrade.org

With most of the world focused on stopping the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump and Johnson administrations are reportedly moving forward this week with US-UK trade negotiations that civil society groups in both countries worry could privilege corporate profits at the expense of the environment, consumer safety, public health and worker rights.

Today a powerful and diverse array of unions and public interest groups from both sides of the Atlantic sent a unified message that trade negotiations between the United States and United Kingdom must prioritize working families, public health and the environment over corporate profits.

The organizations expressed their concerns that a U.S.-UK Free Trade Agreement could pose risks to the wellbeing of people and the planet. The groups — which include environmental, animal welfare, health, food, farming, labor, digital, development, faith and social justice organizations — called on the governments of both countries to conduct transparent negotiations. They demanded the inclusion of binding climate and labor standards and the exclusion of terms that undermine consumer health and safety, financial, privacy and other public interest safeguards.

A PDF of the letter, with the complete list of signing organizations, is available at: https://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TransatlanticTradeStatement_May2020.pdf

Quotes from signatories follow.

“The climate crisis demands a wholesale transformation of status quo trade policy. Any trade agreement worth enacting must support — not undermine — action on climate change. It must include binding climate standards, including a requirement for each country to fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement, so that corporations cannot shift their climate pollution to countries with lower standards. And it must entirely exclude the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system that corporations have used to challenge climate policies.”  –Ben Beachy, Director of the Sierra Club’s Living Economy Program

“Today, high prescription drug prices force people to choose whether to take the medicines they need, to ration, or simply go without needed treatments in order to be able pay for other necessities like food and shelter. The recent coronavirus pandemic has held a magnifying glass to the inequality of our healthcare system. This immoral system is further entrenched by powerful companies that use complicated trade negotiations to lock in current U.S. drug policies and prevent Congress from taking reasonable steps to curb drug price gouging and export our bad policies to our trade partners. A U.S.-UK deal should leave the National Health Service off the table and exclude terms that would raise drug prices in either country.”  –Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

“We cannot allow U.S.-UK negotiations to produce yet another ‘free trade’ deal that empowers multinational corporations to pursue their global deregulation agenda. Such deals undermine government policies that protect local farmers’ livelihoods, help countries maintain food self-sufficiency and preserve the environment for future generations. We caution against any provisions that threaten safe food, clean water, and common-sense consumer labeling.”  –Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

“Our approach to trade policy needs to be fundamentally overhauled to benefit working families, not just the executives and large shareholders of multinational corporations. This is especially true in this moment, when workers worldwide face unprecedented threats to their ability to earn a living. Any new trade deal, including with the United Kingdom, must include stronger protections for workers, not increased incentives for corporations in search of the lowest wages and weakest labor standards. Workers in call centers and other industries are tired of agreements that enable corporations to pit American workers against workers in other countries in a race to the bottom, instead of raising wages and standards for all workers and creating good jobs here in the U.S.”  –Dan Mauer, Director of Government Affairs, Communications Workers of America (CWA)

“Fixing an existing bad deal like NAFTA to try to reduce its ongoing damage is different from creating a good trade pact from scratch. A good U.S.-UK agreement would be about production, not deregulation with trade terms that benefit workers and farmers in both countries and protect the environment, but none of the corporate giveaways found in past pacts that undermine financial regulation and food and product safety and empower monopolistic online firms to threaten our privacy and dodge accountability for selling us fake and dangerous products.”  –Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

“If the UK is to act on the environmental and social crises we face, or lead international climate talks with integrity, we cannot chase a trade deal with a nation that is abandoning climate commitments and defending polluting industries. Rules that prevent overuse of vital antibiotics on livestock or stop dangerous pesticides being sprayed on our food cannot be traded away in a US deal. Now is not the time to be putting the standards that protect our health and environment on the line.”  –Kierra Box, Friends of the Earth EWNI

“The Government has failed to convincingly set out what it hopes to achieve through a US-UK trade deal, despite the risks it could pose to the environment, food standards and public health. It is difficult to see how the deal is consistent with our climate change commitments, especially the goal of net-zero by 2050. The deal poses severe risks to UK agriculture and food standards, which the Government has refused to protect in law. And the deal threatens the NHS and medicines pricing – a key priority for US negotiators.”  –David Lawrence, Trade Justice Movement

“Our precious and beloved NHS must not be ‘on the table’ in trade negotiations with the US. We don’t believe our Prime Minister when he says it isn’t. Trump wants to make profits from our valuable patient data, let US-based companies take over providing some NHS services, deprive our universal and comprehensive service of its controlled drug costs and flood our markets with unhealthy food and drink. More and more private companies – especially US ones – already profit from our NHS. Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) wants a complete re-nationalisation of the National Health Service. Trade – especially in health – should be in the public interest, not for private enrichment. No public service should be ‘tradeable’’ within trade deals.”  –John Puntis, Keep our NHS Public

“Coronavirus has exposed the flaws in the pro-corporate agenda that this trade deal is intended to entrench – from weakening public services, to bringing the market into health care, driving up medicine prices and lowering safety standards. Whatever Johnson and Trump’s rhetoric, the deal will have very little impact in getting the real economy going again. The most optimistic estimates predict at most a fraction of a percent in growth. All this type of deal will do is tie the hands of the government at a time when they need full scope to provide economic stimulus, a green recovery and to protect jobs..”  –Jean Blaylock, Global Justice Now

Taken From:https://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TransatlanticTradeStatement_May2020.pdf

Killer Of A Cure

The spread of COVID-19 put Americans’ lives at risk. But even as people across the country hunker down in their homes to protect themselves, they have more to fear.

Novel coronavirus outbreak in USA concept. Nurse hand holding test tube with infected blood over Chinese flag and flag of the United States of America. Coronavirus laboratory testing

Stock market swings, business closings and other COVID-19 disruptions threaten the nation’s economic well-being.

Some members of Congress want to address the fallout by lifting tariffs on imports from China and other countries, believing that giving Americans access to a flood of cheaper goods will stimulate the economy.

But what might seem like a quick cure would actually jeopardize America’s long-term health.

America’s steel and aluminum industries are still trying to bounce back from years of dumping and other illegal trade practices, from China and other nations, which caused widescale factory closures and job losses.

Removing tariffs on those products now just invites more of the cheating that led to the penalties in the first place.

Chinese goods, for example, would swamp U.S. markets at the worst possible time, as American industries—still trying to recover from the illegal trade of the past—also face the COVID-19 economic slowdown.  In the wake of increased dumping, U.S. factories would be forced to scale back or close, throwing more Americans out of work.

Members of Congress have to ask themselves: Whose side are they on?

The Chinese government subsidizes steel, aluminum and other manufacturing with cash, loans that producers don’t have to repay, and other kinds of aid. Then China dumps products in foreign markets at artificially low prices, undercutting domestic producers and costing workers their jobs.

From 2001 to 2018, America lost 3.7 million jobs—2.8 million of them in manufacturing—because of the trade imbalance with China. That imbalance was driven largely by unfair competition. The uneven playing field also dragged down wages and benefits for Americans who managed to continue to work.

Unleashing a flood of Chinese goods on U.S. markets now would put America in the same position again, only worse because American factories and workers are still grappling with the unprecedented effects of COVID-19.

But illegal trade isn’t just a danger to the economy.

America’s national security depends on a robust manufacturing sector that can turn out the weapons of war and provide the infrastructure for power, telecommunications and transportation. Eviscerating America’s steel and aluminum industries is China’s strategy for undermining U.S. power while consolidating its own. Unfair trade by other countries only compounds the problem.

At the insistence of the United Steelworkers (USW) and other unions, the U.S. in 2018 imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum to safeguard America’s economic and security interests.

ariffs reduced the demand for foreign steel and aluminum, giving the industries a chance to revive.

Some producers even pledged new investments in their facilities. After suspending construction of an electric arc furnace at its Fairfield, Ala., works in 2015 because of unfavorable market conditions, U.S. Steel last year announced plans to complete the $215 million project and hire about 150 workers.

Yet America’s core industries remain vulnerable. Production increased after the tariffs went into effect, but demand fell again last year. Removing tariffs now in a misguided effort to stimulate the economy will only knock the industries on their heels again.

That’s exactly what China’s communist party leaders want. Already rebounding from COVID-19, Chinese government agencies openly plot about preying on countries still trying to come to grips with the disease. They flaunt their goal of dumping products like steel and aluminum on America—if given the chance again—so they can dominate those industries for years to come.

Right now, China sits on huge surpluses of steel and aluminum. If Congress lifts the tariffs, these products would deluge American markets almost immediately. U.S. manufacturing might never recover.

America must keep the steel and aluminum tariffs in place.

But those defensive measures aren’t sufficient by themselves to ensure the long-term survival of America’s core industries.

The nation must ramp up domestic demand—significantly invest in these industries itself—to keep factories operating and workers employed. A national infrastructure program—carried out with American labor and U.S.-made products and materials—would help accomplish this.

Investments in roads and bridges, environmentally safe sewer systems, clean-energy buses, high-speed rail and modern ports would create millions of jobs. Many of them would be in steel, aluminum and other industries, like electric bus manufacturing, where unions represent workers and ensure they have decent wages, benefits and working conditions.

The nation also must find and tap other potential sources of industrial demand. A return to commercial shipbuilding is one possibility.

America once led the world in the production of oceangoing tankers and freighters. But Asian nations, including China, highly subsidized their industries and forced U.S. competitors out of business beginning in the 1980s.

The industry’s demise cost thousands of jobs and left U.S. exporters at the mercy of foreign-owned ships, which can cut off service to American ports at any time. A revival of commercial shipbuilding would create demand for U.S. steel, aluminum and other products while enhancing national security at the same time.

Public health officials in charge of the COVID-19 crisis tell Americans to keep calm and take common-sense steps to protect themselves.

That’s also good advice for members of Congress wrestling with the virus’ economic impact.

Knee-jerk actions and quick fixes, like lifting tariffs on steel, aluminum and other manufactured goods, will make a bad situation worse in the long run. America will lose strength, and countries like China will benefit.

Congress must leave the steel and aluminum tariffs in place and redouble efforts to find new uses for American products. That’s the way to get America’s economy healthy again.

Taken From: https://m.usw.org/blog/2020/killer-of-a-cure

 

It’s not just chlorinated chicken: five foods a US trade deal could bring to the UK

In place of stringent EU food regulations, the US is demanding a ‘science-based’ approach with disturbing consequences.

_105856293_chickenbreast

Nothing symbolises British fears of a standard-slashing US trade deal better than chlorinated chickens: those zombie birds, barely able to move, cluck or feed, stuffed with chemicals that force them to grow to unbelievable sizes, sitting in their own waste, covered in sores rather than feathers. At the end of their miserable life of confinement, they are washed in chlorine or a similar chemical to get rid of the bacteria that infect them.

In fact, the wash is believed to hide rather than eliminate some bacteria, potentially driving much higher rates of food poisoning in the US, not to mention the appallingly treated workers in the industry who suffer “rashes, burns, destruction of the eye tissue, difficulty breathing, and inflammation of the respiratory system” as a result of exposure.

But chicken is only the tip of the iceberg. Despite government claims, here are five other unpleasant foods that could make their way to our menus as part of a UK-US trade deal.

Antibiotic meat

Much US meat is produced on an industrial scale, with conditions as bad as those in the chicken sheds. In particular, hormones, steroids and antibiotics are regularly used to make animals bigger and faster, and to prevent them getting ill in the unnaturally close conditions in which they are kept. Many cows and pigs never see sunlight, walk freely or eat grass. Many of the chemicals used are bad for us too – antibiotic overuse is threatening to make these vital drugs useless, and to bring down a pillar of modern medicine. Another chemical, ractopamine, is regularly fed to industrially farmed pigs in the US, despite making the animals collapse, turn aggressive, suffer liver and kidney dysfunction, and even die. But it probably affects humans too, which is why not just the EU but also Russia and China have banned this dangerous chemical, as well as US pork that contains it.

GM foods

The majority of US processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients, unlike British food. The US is demanding a “science-based” approach to food. This sounds good, but in trade deals “science-based” is a shorthand for more genetically modified food and more intensive chemical use. It contrasts with the EU’s precautionary principle, which takes a cautious approach to health risks and bans foods where there’s a credible risk to health. In the US, the balance of proof works the other way, and there is a high barrier that has to be passed before “harm” translates into regulation. Lead paint, banned in most of Europe before the second world war, was not prohibited in the US until 1978. Boris Johnson and his lead negotiator to the EU have talked about the need for the UK’s approach to food standards to be “governed by science”. GM is coming this way.

More pus, more pesticides

US rules allow milk to have nearly double the level of somatic cells – white blood cells that fight bacterial infection – that the UK allows. In practice, this means more pus in our milk, and more infections going untreated in cows. Much US milk would be deemed unfit for human consumption in Britain. Vegans don’t escape unscathed, because the US allows far more pesticide residue on fruit and vegetables, and allows 72 chemicals banned in the EU, including some responsible for serious harm. That’s before we get to the truly horrific – the rat hair, insect fragments and excrement traces that the US allows in small amounts in food.

Unsafe baby food

Even baby food carries higher risks in the US. In Britain, baby food has special standards including a complete ban on artificial colours and E-numbers, very low maximum levels of pesticides and limits on added sugar. The US has no specific regulations for baby food. A recent test of baby foods in the US found that 95% contained toxic metals, with 73% containing traces of arsenic. While the amounts may be small, the lack of tight regulation on US baby foods, and the certainty that sugar is often added to toddler snack food, should cause deep disquiet.

All-American Stilton cheese and Cornish pasties

Britain currently protects certain foods to ensure they’re made to specific standards and to promote local farming and industry. Think Cornish pasties, Melton Mowbray pork pies, Scottish wild salmon and Stilton blue cheese. In trade talks to date, the US has “pressed the UK to move away from current EU approach on generic terms”. American companies would be able to produce Cornish pasties on a massive scale and sell them back to us. The US also wants to “eliminate … unjustified labelling” saying it unfairly discriminates against American foods and, incredibly, the administration “view[s] the introduction of warning labels as harmful rather than as a step to public health”.

These are not marginal concerns for the US – food is not an aspect of a future deal that Britain will be able to simply opt out of. It is central to US objectives that call for “greater regulatory compatibility to reduce burdens associated with unnecessary differences in regulations and standards” including “a mechanism to remove expeditiously unwarranted barriers that block the export of US food and agricultural products”. The US trade deal is a threat to our food standards and our farmers, and the US will not sign a deal that doesn’t have food standards in it.

Taken From: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/02/chlorinated-chicken-foods-us-trade-deal-uk-eu

Squabble over mask shortage erupts as coronavirus spreads

The mask supply is a growing concern for the administration as more outbreaks of coronavirus are being reported in multiple states.

download

A squabble is breaking out over whether respirator mask manufacturers need more protection from legal liability as the Trump administration presses them to ramp up production amid a major shortage during the coronavirus crisis.

With officials estimating the U.S. has only 1 percent of the masks needed for health workers in a full pandemic, Trump administration and mask makers wanted a provision added to the emergency coronavirus spending bill to protect manufacturers if wearers get sick. But House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, viewed the effort as an expansive legal waiver and blocked it from being added to the final version.

Under the 2005 PREP Act, the government assumes the cost of liability claims when it asks companies to provide products in response to a public emergency. But the protection doesn’t apply to items like industrial masks because they’re not regulated by the FDA, according to Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Association.

The mask supply is a growing concern for the administration as more outbreaks of coronavirus are being reported in multiple states. The CDC is trying to speed masks to health care workers under an emergency use authorization granted Monday that allows more types of respiratorslike industrial masks, to be used in health care settings. The FDA already allows a subset of respirators to be used in health care settings.

HHS this week said the U.S. has about 1 percent of the required respirator masks needed to equip health workers in a full-blown pandemic, estimating the medical system would need as many as 3.5 billion N95 respirator masks in a year.

Coronavirus could lead to drug shortages in US

About 90% of generics made in the U.S. require components from China.

bunch of white oval medication tablets and white medication capsules

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

As the novel coronavirus paralyzes large chunks of China’s economy, another possible result from the outbreak could strike closer to home for many Americans: shortages of lifesaving medication.

The U.S. relies on China for electronics, clothes, toys and, increasingly, prescription drugs. About 90% of the active ingredients used by U.S. companies in drug manufacturing come from China, which has prompted politicians and public health experts to express concern over potential shortages of common generics.

To date, manufacturing disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, haven’t led to reported shortages in the U.S., but the Food and Drug Administration said it’s closely monitoring the situation.

The FDA said earlier this week it was tracking about 20 drugs that are manufactured primarily in China. Depending on the drug, stockpiles lasting weeks, perhaps months, have been warehoused, according to supply chain experts.

But “it’s an issue now,” said David Jacobson, a professor of practice at Southern Methodist University’s business school. “If China isn’t in a position to turn [drug manufacturing] around … then we don’t have an alternative source from which to source them.”

Michael Wessel, commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said generic antibiotics and blood pressure meds could be among those first affected.

We don’t know exactly which products are going to be short,” said Erin Fox, senior policy director of drug information and support services at the University of Utah Health. But, she added, for many Americans, stockpiling a two-week supply, no different from preparing for a long vacation, may be a good idea.

“We don’t want people to panic,” Jacobson said, but “patients might try to position to have a couple months ahead just in case. We do have to recognize that if everybody tried to do that, it would exacerbate the problem, but that’s what I would have my family do.”

Wessel said although “hoarding is something we should avoid,” with most providers, “it’s pretty hard in this day and age to stock up when your insurance company will limit you to a 90-day supply.”

The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted a “substantial and potentially threatening reliance on China with our drug supplies,” Wessel added. “As production in China has been taken offline, the supplies of those products that go into 90% of the generics Americans take are at risk.”

As China’s government continues work to contain the epidemic, it’s also possible drugs or related products previously earmarked for export will be used locally.

“China is going to treat its own people first — any country would do that,” Wessel said. “We shouldn’t blame them for that. But because we are so dependent on them for those, the question is going to be whether there is going to be treatments available for citizens across the globe.”

As coronavirus diagnoses wane, and as more factories in China reopen, potential risks to supply chains also should decline, experts told ABC News.

“I think we’ll have a much better idea in eight to 12 weeks,” Fox said. “I think it’s important not to panic, but I think it’s a good idea to have a couple of weeks on hand of chronic medications. That’s never a bad idea.”

Taken From: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/coronavirus-lead-drug-shortages-us/story?id=69243037

Trump’s NAFTA 2.0: An Environmental Failure

Before, during, and after the Trump administration’s renegotiation of NAFTA, leading environmental organizations
repeatedly named specific changes to curb NAFTA’s environmental damage. The administration ignored nearly all of our
concerns, producing a deal in 2018 that would exacerbate the climate crisis, encourage further outsourcing of pollution
and jobs, offer handouts to notorious corporate polluters, and prolong Trump’s polluting legacy for years.

SIERRA Salmon WB

To correct these environmental failures, environmental groups repeatedly offered detailed recommendations for essential
changes to the 2018 deal, as summarized in a recent letter to Congress. On December 10, 2019, the Trump administration
signed a “protocol of amendment” with some revisions to the 2018 deal. A review of the text of the protocol reveals that
the deal’s core environmental failures have not been resolved.
Below are the essential changes to NAFTA 2.0 that the environmental community has consistently called for, and an
assessment of whether the revised deal meets the mark, based on the text of the 2019 revision. In short, the revised deal
would perpetuate NAFTA’s environmental damage.

1. Binding climate standards: FAIL
● Why it matters: Binding climate standards are essential to curb outsourcing of climate pollution and jobs and to
ensure the U.S. and its trading partners fulfill commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. The U.S. is by far the
world’s largest outsourcer of climate pollution, thanks in part to trade deals that ignore climate change. In
September, 110 members of Congress called for binding climate standards in a renegotiated NAFTA, reinforcing
a longstanding demand of the environmental community.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: Far from including binding climate standards, the 2018 deal failed to even mention
climate change. Nor does the 2019 revision. This glaring omission would leave intact NAFTA’s incentives for
corporations to dodge the hard-fought clean energy policies of U.S. states by moving to Mexico, eliminating jobs
and perpetuating climate pollution.
2. Binding clean air, water, and land standards: FAIL
● Why it matters: There is a well-documented track record of corporations using NAFTA to dodge our hard-fought
environmental standards by shifting their production to Mexico, free of charge, to dump toxic air and water
pollution under Mexico’s weaker environmental policies. The result has been job loss in the U.S. and toxic
poisoning in border communities. To reverse this damage, we have consistently called for a revised deal to
include binding limits on air, water, and land pollution.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The 2018 deal barely mentions pollution and fails to include specific and binding terms to
actually address documented pollution dumping. For example, the text “recognizes that air pollution is a serious
threat to public health,” but then fails to include a single binding rule to reduce the air pollution that NAFTA has
exacerbated. The 2019 revision repeats this failure by omitting essential limits on air, water, or land pollution.
3. Obligations to fulfill commitments under key multilateral environmental agreements: PARTIAL FAIL
● Why it matters: The environmental community asked for a renegotiated NAFTA to require each country to adopt,
maintain, and implement policies to fulfill their obligations under top-priority Multilateral Environmental
Agreements (MEAs), including all of the MEAs to which the U.S. is a party and other critical MEAs ratified by most
countries in the world. Otherwise, countries will continue to have the incentive to violate their MEA commitments in
order to boost trade or investment, spelling threats to air, water, climate stability, and ecosystems.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The deal replicates the same, inadequate list of seven MEAs that were reinforced in the last
four U.S. trade agreements. (The 2019 revision returns to the inadequate status quo after the 2018 deal took a step
backwards by only effectively reinforcing one MEA.) The deal makes no mention of additional top-priority MEAs

that serve critical roles for trade-related environmental protection, including other MEAs ratified by the U.S. and/or
nearly all countries in the world concerning climate change, transboundary air pollution, mercury pollution,
protection of the Caribbean, and other environmental priorities.
4. A new, independent and binding enforcement system to stop environmental violations: FAIL
● Why it matters: Under the enforcement mechanisms of existing U.S. trade agreements, the U.S. has never even
brought a case against a trade partner for systemic environmental abuses, despite widely documented violations.
To correct this categorical failure, we have repeatedly called for an effective enforcement mechanism that is both
binding and independent. That means creating a body of environmental experts, independent from any
government (to avoid conflicts of interest), to proactively investigate and initiate cases against environmental
abuses. And it means that findings of environmental abuses must be subject to trade sanctions.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: Instead of including an independent and binding enforcement system for environmental
terms, the 2018 deal largely replicated the same, weak enforcement mechanisms of past trade deals that have
consistently failed to curb environmental abuses. The 2019 revision repeats this failure, as it does not create an
independent body to investigate and initiate cases against environmental abuses. Instead, the implementing
legislation for NAFTA 2.0 creates an “interagency committee” that is not independent and that has virtually no
power to correct environmental abuses. The committee can only write non-binding reports and in rare instances
issue non-binding recommendations. The committee is chaired by the U.S. Trade Representative, an agency
whose clear conflict of interest has consistently inhibited environmental enforcement in U.S. trade deals to date.
Due to this copy and paste of a failed enforcement system, the environmental terms of NAFTA 2.0, even if they
were strong, are unlikely to be enforced.
5. Removal of corporate polluter handouts that support tar sands oil and fracked gas: FAIL
● Why it matters: The Trump administration’s 2018 text included a new “rule of origin” that would make it cheaper
for oil corporations to export climate-polluting tar sands oil to the U.S. through dangerous oil pipelines like
Keystone XL. The text also failed to include a provision that is needed to preserve the U.S.’s autonomy to
determine if gas exports to Mexico and Canada are in the public interest. This provision is necessary to fix
NAFTA’s automatic gas export guarantee, which has contributed to a five-fold surge in gas exports to Mexico
since 2010, fueling increased fracking in the U.S. and expansion of controversial cross-border gas pipelines.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The deal’s 2019 revision keeps intact both of these handouts to corporate polluters. As
such, the deal would promote reliance on fossil fuels, undercutting our transition to a clean energy economy.
6. Elimination of broad rights for corporate polluters to sue Mexico over environmental policies: FAIL
● Why it matters: While the 2018 text curtailed NAFTA’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement system, it preserved
this illegitimate, shadow legal system for notorious corporate polluters like Chevron and ExxonMobil. The deal
would let oil and gas corporations with Mexican government contracts sue Mexico over climate and
environmental protections in private tribunals, using the same broad corporate rights that they’ve repeatedly used
to successfully challenge environmental policies.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The 2019 revision failed to eliminate this clear-cut handout to oil and gas corporations. As
such, the revised deal would allow corporate polluters to sue Mexico in private tribunals if new environmental
policies undercut their government contracts for offshore drilling, fracking, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, or
other polluting activities.
7. Elimination of rules that would help corporate polluters weaken our environmental regulations: FAIL
● Why it matters: The 2018 text included new, binding rules – not found in any prior U.S. trade agreement – that
offer corporations multiple opportunities to challenge proposed regulations before they are finalized, and to ask
that existing regulations be “repealed” for being more burdensome than necessary. After Donald Trump leaves
office, we will need to swiftly enact stronger environmental regulations to reverse his administration’s many
harmful environmental rollbacks. That task will be difficult if regulators face onerous requirements to justify
proposed regulations in response to repeated challenges from the corporations that would be regulated.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The deal’s 2019 revision failed to revise or delete these deregulatory rules. As such,
NAFTA 2.0 could help corporations slow down or weaken the process of re-regulation, extending Trump’s
polluting legacy even after Trump leaves office.

Taken From: https://www.sierraclub.org/sites/www.sierraclub.org/files/Trump-NAFTA-Environment-Failure.pdf

Redo of USMCA Better Than Original NAFTA After Yearlong Effort to Improve Trump’s 2018 Deal

Unions, Consumer Groups and Congressional Democrats Achieve Removal of Big Pharma Giveaways and Strengthening of Labor, Environmental Standards and Enforcement

no-new-naft-from-1-e1544407291117

WASHINGTON – Today, the administration and U.S. House Democrats announced they had reached an agreement on a redo of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that Donald Trump signed last year. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, issued the following preliminary statement about the revised revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA):

Thanks to congressional Democrats, unions and consumer groups fighting to remove Big Pharma giveaways and improve labor and environmental terms, the redo of Trump’s 2018 NAFTA 2.0 is better than the original NAFTA and could improve peoples’ lives, although it still includes problematic terms.

Trump failed to fix NAFTA with the deal he signed last year, betraying his promise to working people. It included new Big Pharma giveaways that lock in high drug prices and labor and environmental terms that were too weak to stop NAFTA’s original sin of job outsourcing.

Working people are the winners in the yearlong battle to force Trump to fix his NAFTA 2.0: The changes Trump was forced to make mean the final deal could counter some of NAFTA’s ongoing damage to working people and the environment. Although many NAFTA flaws were not fixed, the alternative is status quo NAFTA, not a more improved deal.

The best feature of the new NAFTA is the gutting of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Using this regime, corporations have extracted almost $400 million from North American taxpayers after attacks on environmental and health policies before tribunals of three corporate lawyers. That a U.S. pact largely eliminates extreme ISDS protections for foreign investors and anti-democratic tribunals sends a signal worldwide about the illegitimacy of the ISDS regime.

Trump’s claim that this new NAFTA will bring back hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs is absurd. However, over time, the labor and environmental standards and enhanced enforcement terms may help raise wages in Mexico, and this may also reduce U.S. corporations’ incentives to outsource U.S. jobs to Mexico to pay workers less.

Today’s deal shows that to be politically viable, trade pacts can no longer include extreme corporate rights like ISDS or new monopoly protections for Big Pharma that have been featured in past U.S. trade deals and that they must have enforceable labor and environmental standards. This is a significant shift after decades of U.S. trade pacts expanding corporate rights and Big Pharma monopoly protections.

Fixing the existing, damaging NAFTA is not the same as negotiating a truly progressive trade agreement from scratch, which would additionally require climate provisions, truly enforceable currency disciplines, and the elimination of limits on consumer protections for food, product safety, the service sector and online platforms. The new NAFTA is not the template for future agreements, but establishes the floor from which we will continue to advocate for a new model of trade and globalization that puts people and the planet first.

Taken From: https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2019/12/10/redo-usmca-better-original-nafta-after-yearlong-effort-improve-trumps-2018-deal

BEYOND NAFTA 2.0 TOWARD A PROGRESSIVE TRADE AGENDA FOR PEOPLE AND PLANET

beyond-nafta-cover

Foreword
By Ethan Earle and Andreas Günther
8 Introduction: Beyond NAFTA 2.0
By the Editors
12 Toward a New Multilateral Trade System
By Sarah Anderson, Andrés Peñaloza Méndez, and Stuart Trew
16 International Investment Agreements and ISDS
By Sarah Anderson, Alberto Arroyo, and Manuel Pérez-Rocha
23 Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Affordable Medicines
By Scott Sinclair
30 Digital Trade
By Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood
36 Labor Standards
By Scott Sinclair
43 Women’s Rights and Gender Equity
By María Atilano, Lucía Bárcena, Nadia Ibrahim, and Cristina Pina
49 Alternative Agricultural Systems
By Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Leticia López, and Enrique Pérez
54 Indigenous Rights
By Paulina Acevedo Menanteau
59 Environmental Protection and Climate Change
By Manuel Pérez-Rocha
66 Regulatory Cooperation and “Good Regulatory Practices”
By Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew
72 Public Services
By Scott Sinclair
79 Conclusion: Toward a Progressive Trade Agenda for People and Planet

By the Editors
List of Acronyms
AMLO: Andrés Manuel López Obrador
ALBA: the Bolivarian Alliance for the
Peoples of our America
BIT: Bilateral Investment Treaty
CEDAW: Convention to Eliminate All Forms
of Discrimination Against Women
CETA: Comprehensive Economic
and Trade Agreement
COOL: Country-of-Origin Labeling
CPTPP: Comprehensive and Progressive
Trans-Pacific Partnership
CSO: Civil Society Organization
EPSU: European Federation
of Public Service Unions
EU: European Union
FTA: Free Trade Agreement
GATS: General Agreement
on Trade in Services
GMO: Genetically Modified Organism
GRP: Good Regulatory Practice
HRC: Human Rights Council
IIA: International Investment Agreement
ICS: Investment Court System
ILO: International Labour Organization
IP: Intellectual Property
IPRs: Intellectual Property Rights
ISDS: Investor-State Dispute Settlement
ISP: Internet Service Provider
MIC: Multilateral Investment Court
MSME: Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise
NAFTA: North American
Free Trade Agreement
NGO: Non-Governmental Organization
OECD: Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development
OHCHR: Office of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights of the United Nations
OMB: Office of Management and Budget
PMPRB: Patented Medicine Prices
Review Board
RIA: Regulatory Impact Assessment
SDG: Sustainable Development Goals
SIA: Sustainability Impact Assessments
SPS: Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards
SME: Small and Medium-sized Enterprise
SOE: State-Owned Enterprises
SSE: Social and Solidarity Economy
TBT: Technical Barriers to Trade
TiSA: Trade in Services Agreement
TNC: Transnational Corporation
TPP: Trans-Pacific Partnership
TRIPS: Trade-Related Aspects
of Intellectual Property Rights
TTIP: Transatlantic Trade
and Investment Partnership
UN: United Nations
UNCITRAL: United Nations Commission
on International Trade Law
UNCTAD: United Nations Conference
on Trade and Development
UNIPCC: United Nations Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change
UPOV: International Union for the
Protection of New Varieties of Plants
USMCA: United States-Mexico-Canada
Agreement
USTR: United States Trade Representative
WHO: World Health Organization
WTO: World Trade Organization

 

Taken From: https://ips-dc.org/report-beyond-nafta/

Covid-19 Testing Is Hampered by Shortages of Critical Ingredient

Lack of reagents is forcing health systems to limit who can get tested and end community testing programs

Supply shortages are forcing health systems across the country to limit who gets tested for Covid-19, hindering efforts to ramp up testing as flu season approaches.

The latest testing problems largely stem from a shortage of reagents, the chemicals used to process the tests, medical officials said. Some hospitals and other testing operations that spent months bolstering their capacity are now reverting to restricting Covid-19 tests to the most essential patients, as they did in the spring.

Mark Steadham, president and chief executive of Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers, about 55 miles from Chicago, said his facility could now conduct about a third of the testing it was doing this summer. That’s because in recent weeks, it has only been getting a third—and sometimes less—of its previous weekly allocation of 20 Abbott rapid-testing kits due to the reagent shortage. Each kit runs 24 tests.

An Abbott spokeswoman said the company was continuing to expand its capacity given the high demand and that it was working with customers to supply as many tests as possible.

Beginning in June, Morris offered widespread community testing, but is now limiting tests to patients who are admitted or are referred with Covid-19 symptoms. “We felt like we were just starting to get ahead of the virus,” Mr. Steadham said of the testing slowdown. His facility is the only provider of tests in surrounding Grundy County, population 51,000, and it has become difficult to assess how widely the coronavirus is spreading there, he said.

The overall number of Covid-19 tests distributed around the country has grown from 15.8 million in April to 37.6 million last month, according to the Advanced Medical Technology Association, a medical device trade group.

But shortages have continued to occur in reagents and other supplies, caused by regional increases in demand when infection rates rise, schools reopen and new testing requirements take effect, such as those for nursing homes, medical experts said.

According to a survey last month by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, which represents commercial, hospital and public-health laboratories, 67% of labs are having issues getting both reagents and test kits—the highest level since the group started querying labs in May. In late June and early July, 58% of labs struggled to get enough test kits and 46% enough reagents, according to an earlier survey.

Shortages for reagent and other supplies needed to process Covid-19 tests are likely to persist, pathologists say, partly because most flu tests rely on the same components, equipment and personnel as the coronavirus tests.

Michael Dacey, president of Riverside Health System, which includes five hospitals and 10 nursing homes in eastern Virginia, said his company had cut the 1,200 weekly tests it was previously conducting by about 20% because of a shortage of testing supplies, including reagents, and was focusing on administering the tests to admitted patients.

Other people suspected of having Covid-19—but not sick enough to be admitted—are being sent home and referred to a commercial laboratory that takes about 48 hours to deliver results, Dr. Dacey said. Riverside’s own lab takes eight hours.

“This is a big country, and we still haven’t been able to settle the testing issue. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Dr. Dacey.

Companies that manufacture both the tests and reagents say they are doing everything they can to keep up, including diverting resources from manufacturing tests for some sexually transmitted diseases. “Demand for tests, testing instruments and consumables remain high,” said Patrick Berth, a spokesperson for Roche Holding AG , a leading test and reagent manufacturer.

Last month, Advocate Aurora Health, which operates 26 hospitals across Illinois and Wisconsin, temporarily halted its community testing programs in Illinois and suspended testing before some surgical procedures in Wisconsin due to supply issues.

To help address the problem, Advocate Aurora on Sept. 8 launched “pooled testing,” which involves screening multiple patient samples via a single test to conserve reagent, said Dr. Jeffrey Bahr, chief medical group officer.

Community testing programs have been affected by the latest shortages because some health systems have opted to limit or shut them down to conserve testing supplies for patients at hospitals.

Eric Young, director of laboratory services for Sentara Healthcare, a network of 12 hospitals in Virginia and North Carolina, said the reagent shortage forced the system to shut down a testing program this summer in low-income mostly Black and Hispanic areas. The program, which was operating for two months, hasn’t been restarted because of the supply scarcity, Mr. Young said.

Mr. Young said the level of supplies Sentara was getting from vendors—enough to run 1,250 tests a day—hadn’t changed for months, despite increased demand. He said his lab could run up to three times that number of tests if it got more supplies.

“The most frustrating part is that we have people who are coming to ask us to help care for their patients and we can’t do it because we don’t have the supplies,” he said. “I have the capacity to do everything else. But I can’t get that last piece to run the tests.”

Taken From:https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-testing-is-hampered-by-shortages-of-critical-ingredient-11600772400?fbclid=IwAR2WV_QyHsXNrniNn7ijCPIFtnnwwc2y2BZTTYw9ru06NBPn79O0cd951KA

Happy drink in sad times: champagne-makers gather pandemic harvest

BETHON, France (Reuters) – Winemakers in France’s Champagne region are this week gathering a bumper grape harvest, but there is a bitter aftertaste: the slump in demand for bubbly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means some of the harvest will go to waste.

white-grapes-on-vine-1318682

“We make the wine of happiness, and when people are sad, like during the lockdown, sales of champagne tend to collapse,” said Vincent Leglantier, a 34-year-old wine grower in Bethon, about 120 km (75 miles) east of Paris.

At the Brun de Neuville vineyard collective, to which Leglantier belongs, teams of pickers in baseball caps worked their way along rows of vines, collecting grapes by hand. Most are migrant workers from eastern Europe who come every harvest season.

But this year is different. Sales are sharply down because weddings and parties — drivers of demand for champagne — are being cancelled around the world.

In response, French champagne producers decided this month to put a cap on the amount of grapes they send for processing into wine.

They took the decision because a glut of the drink in cellars and on wholesalers’ shelves would drive down prices and tarnish the aura of luxury and exclusivity that the industry has spent years building up.

But the cap – limiting the amount of grapes that can be harvested from a hectare to 8,000 kg — means that anything over that figure must be left to rot.

The quota is one fifth less than last year’s harvest and this year, because of hot sunny weather that growers ascribe to climate change, the yield in many vineyards is even more bountiful than usual.

“You could say it’s maybe the best of the bad deals we could have reached,” Damien Champy, head of the Brun de Neuville vineyard cooperative, said of the quota as he stood in the cellar where bottles of champagne are left to mature.

Taken From:https://www.reuters.com/

US wins end of EU lobster tariffs in mini trade deal

The European Union has agreed to eliminate tariffs on US lobster, a key priority of President Donald Trump.

daniel-norris--O8dNtuT2v4-unsplash

In exchange, the US will halve import taxes on some $160m (£122m) worth of European goods, including cigarette lighters and certain crystal glassware.

The agreement is the first tariff reduction the two economic heavyweights have agreed in more than two decades.

Mr Trump had threatened higher tariffs on European cars if the EU did not end the lobster duties.

In June, he ordered aid for US lobstermen, whose exports have suffered in part due to deteriorating trade relations.

China slapped tariffs on the crustacean as part of the US-China trade dispute, while in the EU market, the industry has lost ground to competitors from Canada, after the country signed a 2017 free trade agreement eliminating Europe’s 8% lobster tariffs.

The new US agreement, which would drop the lobster tariffs for five years, still needs approval from EU governments and the European Parliament.

‘Improving relations’

The US and EU remain at odds on numerous trade issues, including tariffs Mr Trump imposed on foreign steel and aluminium, European taxes on tech giants and subsidies for Boeing and Airbus, which have led to tariffs on $7.5bn worth of European goods.

A wider trade deal, which the two sides started discussing last year, has remained out of reach.

“As part of improving EU-US relations, this mutually beneficial agreement will bring positive results to the economies of both the United States and the European Union. We intend for this package of tariff reductions to mark just the beginning of a process that will lead to additional agreements that create more free, fair, and reciprocal transatlantic trade,” US Ambassador Robert Lighthizer and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said in a joint announcement.

In 2017, the US exported more than $111m worth of lobster to the EU. Many of the shipments came from the state of Maine, a political battleground for Republicans and Democrats.

The state narrowly supported Mr Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, but is represented in the Senate by Republican Susan Collins, who is facing a tough re-election fight.

A request by the US for a deal on lobsters had been rejected by the EU last year, with Brussels insisting on a broader package, but more recently the two sides have shown signs of trying to reduce tensions.

Earlier this month, the US refrained from a rise in tariffs it had threatened over European subsidies for Airbus.

Taken From: https://www.bbc.com/

 

How Marco Rubio runs Trump’s Latin America policy

The Florida senator plays an outsize role in the region — and he makes little secret of it.

download

WASHINGTON — When President Donald Trump took office, he passed down one key instruction on how to handle Latin America: Make Marco Rubio happy.

Rubio, a Florida Republican and son of Cuban immigrants, had already built his political brand around vocal criticism of the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, and to what he viewed as the Democrats’ policy of appeasement in the region.

Trump didn’t have much to say about Latin America, but he knew two things: He wanted to keep immigrants and asylum-seekers out of the United States, and he had to win Florida in 2020. And he viewed staying in the good graces of Rubio, whose hardline stances have made him popular among Cuban and Venezuelan exiles and their descendants in and around Miami, as key to the latter.

Nearly four years later, Rubio’s influence goes well beyond his formal job title of Florida senator. Empowered by Trump, he’s now widely known in Washington — and in Latin American capitals from Buenos Aires to Havana — as a major force behind the president’s policies in the region.

Rubio has effectively become secretary of State for Latin America, according to interviews with more than a dozen former White House and State Department officials and current Republican lawmakers, aides and analysts. The administration has learned to seek his blessing on key hires related to the region, and the president routinely solicits his input on new policy initiatives.

Rubio rejects labels like “virtual secretary of State for Latin America,” an appellation bestowed on him last year by the New York Times. “That implies we don’t have a secretary of State and that’s not accurate,” he told POLITICO in an interview. “If people mean it as a compliment, I don’t mean to turn them off on it. But it’s not like the people I’m working with or providing advice to need to be convinced to do these things.” He describes his own role in humbler terms — to offer advice and “nudge us in one direction or another” in hiring and policy decisions, as he put it.

But with influence has come criticism. Rubio has become too powerful, his critics say — ruthless in his efforts to control messaging and push out anyone with a role in Latin America policy who could be perceived as soft on Cuba or Venezuela, while too narrow in his focus on only a few countries in a region of more than 650 million people.

Rubio’s influence has “distorted policy,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank focused on Latin America, who criticized top officials’ “singular focus” on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. “But this obsession with the three dictatorships doesn’t mean you ignore everything else that is going on in the region,” he added.

Inside the administration, officials face a continual dilemma over just how much deference to pay the Florida senator. “Rubio is either advantageous to you or an obstructor. Which do you choose?” said a former administration official focused on Latin America.

From the early days of the Trump administration, Rubio has had a direct line to the president when it comes to Cuba and Venezuela — and occasionally Nicaragua, two former administration officials said.

In February 2017, he organized a meeting between Trump and Lilian Tintori, wife of Venezuelan opposition politician and then-political prisoner Leopoldo López, at the White House. The president did not inform National Security Council aides of the meeting and they did not find out until after it took place, according to two former administration officials. Trump tweeted out a photo of the encounter, marking Rubio as a voice who could not be ignored.

“We knew early on that on Latin America policy Trump wasn’t taking cues from career officials. He was taking cues from harder-line Cuba folks in Miami,” a former State official said.

During peak times in Trump’s crackdown on Cuba and Venezuela’s governments, Rubio was briefed by the National Security Council at least once a week. And State officials have long been advised — including under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — to always be quick in responding to inquiries from the Florida senator’s office.

“You’d never want Marco Rubio to find out like everyone else” about a policy rollout, a former administration official said.

In phone calls, Trump has often solicited Rubio’s views on National Security Council proposals related to Latin America, former administration officials said. On multiple occasions, Rubio came directly to NSC staffers with feedback on live policy options related to Cuba and Venezuela that they had not discussed with him or his staff directly. The president, they assumed, had shared the information with Rubio in their private conversations.

Rubio is also close with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, dating back to their days in Congress; Pompeo even endorsed Rubio during his run for president in 2016. The vice president has often heeded Rubio’s calls for certain action on Cuba and Venezuela. In 2018, at Rubio’s request, Pence used his speech at the Summit of the Americas in Peru to offer up the United States as the host country for the next one, which will take place in 2021, former administration officials said. (Pence’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the Summit request or their relationship.)

Rubio argues he’s simply providing guidance on issues the Trump administration already considers a priority, like increasing sanctions on Venezuelan officials and industries and rolling back Obama-era policy on Cuba.

“It’s not like the people I’m working with or providing advice to need to be convinced. Their instincts are there, their hearts are there and their minds are there,” Rubio said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, another prominent Florida Republican voice on Latin America, gave Trump full credit for his administration’s work on Venezuela and Cuba. “It’s not either of us. It’s not the secretary of State. It’s him,” Diaz-Balart said. “Senator Rubio and I are very fortunate that the president listens to us and calls us in on these issues.”

But other Rubio allies say he held the administration to a hard line. “Rubio is seen in Cuba as the main person that opposes the Castro regime in the United States and the person that has the ear of the president,” said Tomás Regalado, a former mayor of Miami and former head of Radio and TV Marti, the U.S.-funded broadcast network aimed at countering Cuba’s state-run media. “If there was a moment when anybody in the administration said it’s time to give a second look to what we’re doing on Cuba, Rubio stopped that,” said Regalado, who was recommended by Rubio for the TV Marti post.

Some Latin America analysts say it’s natural administration officials would come to Rubio for guidance given that the Florida senator, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, is one of, if not the, lawmaker with the most knowledge on the region.

But they point out that Rubio rarely, if ever, talks about Latin American countries that aren’t Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua. For example, he has never met with Mexican Ambassador Martha Bárcena, the Mexican Embassy confirmed, despite Mexico being the U.S.’ southern neighbor and largest trading partner in 2019. In July, Rubio did not offer any kind of statement or tweet when Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador traveled to Washington — his first trip out of Mexico in years — to meet with Trump at the White House.

“He’s not making foreign policy. It’s Florida electoral politics, and yes, he’s successful in Florida. But frankly it’s a dereliction of his duty as chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee to ignore the majority of the region,” a conservative Latin America analyst said.

Rubio also made clear when López Obrador was elected in July 2018 that he had “serious philosophical differences” with the Mexican populist, but added that “Mexico is an important partner of the United States.” Last year, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on U.S. policy in Mexico and Central America; Rubio did not attend.

Multiple people involved in U.S.-Mexico relations said they have not seen Rubio express an interest in the bilateral relationship, instead letting the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the president’s aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner lead on the issue.

Instead, Rubio has only gotten involved in U.S.-Mexico affairs when it relates to Florida, multiple aides and analysts said. Rubio and other Florida lawmakers have been pushing the Trump administration to address concerns from state growers that Mexico is harming them by selling seasonal produce to the U.S. at unfair prices. The administration is set to hold a virtual hearing with Florida producers next month.

A person close to Rubio pushed back: “The narrative is false.” Rubio has held a subcommittee hearing on the U.S.-Mexico relationship, worked closely with the Trump administration during negotiations for the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal and raised concerns over human rights, organized crimes and drug trafficking with the administration, the person said. The subcommittee hearing took place in March 2017, however, and several people involved in the USMCA negotiations said Rubio was rarely involved in the negotiations other than on the issue of seasonal produce.

Personnel is policy

To maneuver his allies into top positions, Rubio has pushed out officials and aides who did not share his views on Cuba and Venezuela.

In 2018, after a failed effort to install him at the State Department, he successfully placed his longtime friend Mauricio Claver-Carone into the White House as head of the Western Hemisphere Affairs at the NSC. Claver-Carone, who previously worked on Trump’s transition team and led a political action committee that worked to preserve the U.S. embargo on Cuba, was an outspoken opponent of the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

“Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s ‘talking for the sake of talking’ is proving only to be a useful distraction in this country and the world that is allowing the Castro regime to strengthen its political and economic grip over the Cuban people and their future,” Claver-Carone wrote in a piece for HuffPosst in 2016.

In June, Claver-Carone, who is considered by former administration officials, Rubio allies and Latin American analysts to have moved much decision-making power on Cuba and Venezuela policy from State to the NSC, was nominated to run the Inter-American Development Bank.

Rubio also recommended Carlos Trujillo, another Cuban American who was formerly an attorney in Miami, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States in 2018, aides and Rubio allies said. Trujillo, who multiple Latin America analysts call “Little Marco,” is now on track to be confirmed as the assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, the top Latin America position at the State Department.

In early 2019, Rubio demanded that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch replace Caleb McCarry, who had led Western Hemisphere affairs for the committee for six years, so he could put in his own former staffer for the role, three people familiar with the situation said.

The sources described how McCarry, who served as a Cuba transition coordinator under George W. Bush, had spent his time in the committee caught in Rubio’s crosshairs due to his role in helping carry out former chairman Sen. Bob Corker’s policies, which were often at odds with Rubio’s approach. Corker visited Cuba and had a more measured approach to sanctions.

One of the major tensions, the people familiar with McCarry’s departure said, stemmed from McCarry’s role in brokering the release of Joshua Holt, a U.S. citizen who was held in a Venezuelan prison for nearly two years without trial. Corker, with the help of McCarry, met in person with Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s socialist leader, to make it happen.

McCarry now serves as a counselor to the CEO of the International Development Finance Corporation, a much lower profile job.

Rubio also pushed to ensure Francisco “Paco” Palmieri would not get confirmed for any position in the Trump administration, multiple people familiar said.

Palmieri served as acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, the top State job on the region, for almost two years after being embraced by Tillerson when he took over the department in January 2017.

He soon found himself caught between the secretary of State and Rubio, who clashed at Tillerson’s confirmation hearing. A former State official said Tillerson used Palmieri as a “blocking agent” since Rubio wanted his own pick in that role — Claver-Carone.

Palmieri, given his decades of experience in the Foreign Service, was perceived by Rubio as a “deep stater,” according to aides and former officials. Rubio also faulted Palmieri for not doing enough to tackle the mysterious sonic attacks that made U.S. diplomats ill in Cuba, and shared all those concerns with Pompeo’s staff.

Palmieri was ultimately nominated to serve as ambassador to Honduras, but the nomination was tabled in 2019 by the Trump administration at Rubio’s request, multiple people familiar said. He is now a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University.

And while Palmieri was in the acting role, Rubio could not get the State Department to support Claver-Carone for the permanent job, former officials said. The administration settled on Kimberly Breier, a longtime career official at State, as a compromise choice; she assumed the role in late 2018 with Kushner’s blessing, multiple people familiar with the situation said, and worked directly with Kushner on U.S.-Mexico issues.

But Rubio ultimately prevailed. Breier resigned 10 months into the job, clearing the way for Trujillo’s nomination.

At Trujillo’s confirmation hearing last month, Rubio praised him for working with allies at the OAS to coordinate sanctions against members of the Venezuelan regime.

“I know it took a lot of old-fashioned diplomatic work behind the scenes with our partner nations in the region. And I think, it’s in no small part, due to you,” Rubio said. “I’m excited and very supportive of your nomination.”

Rubio’s office does not deny the Florida senator’s involvement in pushing out officials to make room for his picks. “Senator Rubio believes personnel is policy and he’ll continue to use his role in the Senate to advance U.S. policy,” a spokesperson said.

But critics of his approach say he has far been more successful in bending the U.S government to his way of thinking than in effecting change in Cuba and Venezuela.

One person who seems to have grown skeptical of the strategy is Trump, who recently floated the idea of meeting with Maduro — only to swiftly walk it back after an outcry on the right.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special representative for Venezuela and a Rubio ally, defended the administration’s attempts to oust the regime in Caracas. “We have said from the beginning that we have one thing to discuss with Maduro, and that is the details of his departure,” Abrams said.

As for Cuba, where there are few signs that Trump’s return to pressure has yielded the desired result, Rubio asks for patience.

“I never told anyone that you would do this and within 12 days this all comes falling down,” Rubio said. “But there will come a moment, I can’t tell you when that day is, but it won’t be in 30 years… there will be a moment in which it will become apparent that Cuba needs to change direction.”

Taken From: https://www.politico.com/

Japan, Britain to protect encryption keys in trade pact: report

Japan and Britain have agreed not to force their companies to disclose algorithms or set up local data servers, as part of talks aimed at a bilateral trade deal, the Nikkei said on Saturday.

pexels-porapak-apichodilok-346734

A Japan-Britain agreement on advanced digital standards would pave the way for creating an international framework to protect intellectual property and the free flow of data, the business daily reported, without citing sources.

The two nations hope to clinch a deal before Britain’s transition out of the European Union concludes at the year end, to avoid any gaps in bilateral trade arrangements.

Under the bilateral deal, the two governments would not force their companies to hand over encryption keys, which are used to protect proprietary corporate technology and information, the Nikkei said.

The two nations are expected to agree not to force companies to set up servers and other related facilities within their borders and to protect the free flow of data, the report said.

A Japanese government official declined to comment, as the talks are ongoing. A call to the British embassy in Tokyo went unanswered.

Although Britain will be covered by the Japan-EU economic agreement until the end of the year, Tokyo hopes to complete the bilateral trade deal before that, as it would need legal checks by the government before being submitted to parliament, which could meet in coming months, a Japanese negotiator said this month.

In the trade talks, Tokyo wants to secure at least as favorable automobile tariffs as it has in its existing EU trade pact, the negotiator told Reuters.

Taken From: https://japantoday.com/