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Without Fixes, We Must Oppose the New NAFTA

When the new NAFTA was signed, the AFL-CIO warned that we would oppose the agreement without major changes.

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As we said in our March 2019 Executive Council statement, the labor movement will mobilize to defeat the new NAFTA if it is not changed to “meaningfully address what is wrong with the original NAFTA.” We urged the Trump administration to incorporate the changes we have insisted must be made to reverse a legacy of lost jobs in the United States and lower living standards for working people throughout North America.

Unfortunately, to date, the administration has failed to offer sufficient workable solutions to fix the significant weaknesses we identified. We are hopeful that the current engagement with the House Democrats’ Trade Working Group will lead to progress, but we will oppose any agreement that undermines the interests of working people. In light of the administration’s plan to submit the new NAFTA for a vote this fall, we reiterate that if changes are not made, the labor movement will do everything in our power to defeat it.

In our March statement, we laid out a specific list of concerns we have repeated numerous times in both public statements and in private meetings with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The list begins with the need to strengthen NAFTA’s labor standards and include new tools to facilitate their swift and effective enforcement. The agreement’s labor standards should be based explicitly on the relevant International Labor Organization Conventions, which include the freedom of association, collective bargaining, equal remuneration, prohibitions on child labor, forced labor and discrimination, rather than vague references to the principles that underlie those rights.

Changes to the text must also include the elimination of loopholes, which provide that a party must demonstrate a violation was committed through a “sustained or recurring course of action or inaction” and “in a manner affecting trade or investment between the parties.” This requirement has proved insurmountable in the only case ever to be arbitrated under the labor chapter of a U.S. free trade agreement, and it must be removed. In addition, the provisions on forced labor, discrimination and migrant workers are intentionally weak and must be strengthened. Specific language also should be added to ensure nondiscriminatory consumer information laws, such as Country of Origin Labeling, are not considered trade violations.

The agreement itself must contain effective enforcement tools, including the ability of the United States to deny entry of any goods produced in violation of the new labor standards. There is ample precedent for this in the Peru Free Trade Agreement, which permits the United States to block the importation of illegally harvested lumber. This would match the relief afforded to businesses that find their intellectual property rights violated. Without this enforcement tool, companies will continue to exploit workers and treat any lesser penalties, such as fines or the loss of tariff-free entry, as a cost of doing business.

The proposed labor chapter of the new NAFTA also includes important provisions that require Mexico to end corporatist unions and their protection contracts, recognize independent unions, and establish independent labor courts. We have made it clear that Mexico must demonstrate both the political will and the capacity to implement these reforms before it enjoys any benefits under the deal. Without these changes, the new NAFTA, like its predecessor, will continue to give global firms free rein to exploit workers in a race to the bottom.

Measurable progress must be made in all these areas before the agreement takes effect. Unfortunately, there are early indications that progress in Mexico will be slow or halted altogether. For example, incumbent protection unions have filed hundreds of constitutional challenges against the recent labor reforms, and injunctions have been granted in several cases already.

Another glaring failure of the new NAFTA is its treatment of pharmaceuticals. Under the agreement, the monopoly power of Big Pharma is further enhanced, harming consumers in the United States, Mexico and Canada. We have said from the beginning that this provision must be dropped, but to date we have seen no evidence that the administration intends to do so.

The administration also has exaggerated the benefits of its proposed rules of origin, which will need to be strengthened and applied to sectors beyond autos if they are to have any positive effect at all. For example, while the content requirement rises from 62.5% under the existing NAFTA to 75% under the new agreement, the details of the new calculation are unclear.  Further, the proposed rules only require that products be produced in North America, not in the United States, thus limiting the promised job benefits to America’s workers.

The new NAFTA does include a provision requiring that a percentage of content be produced by workers making $16 an hour—but requires that level be an average rather than a minimum, with the calculation including highly paid engineers and assembly workers. Many autos produced in Mexico already meet that threshold, as do most made in the United States, so the benefits may be limited. In addition, while the agreement covers steel and aluminum in autos, it does not require that all of the core components be produced in North America. As a result, auto parts produced from Chinese steel slabs could qualify for benefits.

Although the Mexican government prevents American rail employees from working in Mexico, U.S. officials last year allowed Mexican rail crews who do not meet U.S. safety rules to provide rail service 10 miles past our border. A new NAFTA must end this double standard and provide the same protections for American rail workers that their Mexican counterparts enjoy.

While President Donald Trump claims that the new NAFTA will stop outsourcing and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States, the administration has provided no credible evidence to back that up. We are reminded that similar baseless claims were made when the original NAFTA was first negotiated and that other administrations have made the same empty promises when they presented similar FTAs to Congress. America’s workers are tired of being misled when it comes to the so-called benefits of corporate trade agreements.

Without incorporating the changes we have been advocating for all along, the new NAFTA would do little to stop the continued outsourcing of jobs in a wide range of industries, from aerospace and autos to food processing and call centers. As we said in March, it is possible to negotiate a trade agreement that lifts wages and living standards in all three countries. The agreement we have before us will not get us there. If the new NAFTA is not dramatically improved along the lines we have suggested, we will have no choice but to forcefully oppose it.

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North American Trade Deal Must Be ‘Greatly Improved’: Top Democrat

Much work remains before Democrats will be ready to vote on a new North American trade pact, the speaker of the US House of Representatives said Thursday.

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“It has to be greatly improved in terms of enforcement,” Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, told reporters. “We think we’re making progress.”

Negotiations with President Donald Trump’s administration to improve guarantees for labor protections for Mexican workers — a key demand of US labor unions — are continuing but there is as yet no text to vote on, she said.

“Some of you are urging us to put it on the floor. There’s nothing to put on the floor. We don’t have a bill,” she added.

Pelosi said changes to enforcement provisions should be made within the text of the treaty itself, not in a “sidebar letter.”

“America’s working families are not served well by the repression of workers in other countries,” said Pelosi.

“It has to be enforcement within the agreement,” she said. “I think it is possible to do so.”

Nearly a year after it was signed by the United States, Canada and Mexico, the future of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — a revamp to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement — hangs in doubt.

The effort to ratify the treaty is among competing priorities’ vying for Congress’s attention and comes ahead of a presidential election year, when Democrats will be leery of handing Trump a victory.

While Mexico has ratified the treaty and it has made progress in Canada, Democrats who control the House of Representatives say reforms for Mexican laborers, which are meant to protect US industry from exploitative competition, are so far insufficient.

According to media reports, late Wednesday US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent a detailed response, answering the concerns of a working group of lawmakers led by Pelosi — something which could help kick-start efforts to ratify the treaty.

“We’ve made an offer. They’ve made an offer, now we have to sit down,” said Pelosi.

Outside the Capitol on Thursday, Democratic and Republican House lawmakers joined farmers and farm lobby representatives in rallying for swift passage of the USMCA.

US farmers have borne the brunt of retaliation in Trump’s trade conflicts, losing export markets and facing higher tariffs in China and Europe that have caused sales of major crops like soybeans and corn to plummet.

This has put pressure on lawmakers from rural areas to demand the return of stable trading relations.

“We’re very close. I feel very confident that we’re going to get it done,” Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat representing a trade-dependent Texas district on the Mexican border, said during Thursday’s rally.

“Pelosi will put it for a vote.”

Taken From: https://www.ibtimes.com/north-american-trade-deal-must-be-greatly-improved-top-democrat-2826045

Trump Campaign Advisors Receive Over $2 Million in Trade Bailout Payments

Fifteen members of an agribusiness council that advised Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign have received $2.2 million from the federal bailout program for farmers hurt by the president’s trade war with China.

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Two months before Trump won the 2016 election, his campaign announced the formation of an Agriculture and Rural Advisory Committee. Designed to smooth over any misgivings farmers might have voting for a rich Manhattan playboy, the council was a who’s who of industrial agriculture luminaries.

The group’s founder and leader is Charles Herbster, a Nebraska farmer, rancher and CEO of an agricultural products company. During the campaign, Herbster told Politico the group’s focus would be fundraising and mobilizing rural voters. In a set of talking points distributed by the committee, a topline message to farmers was “If you want a more predictable and profitable future, your choice is straight forward – you must vote for Donald Trump for President.”

Since Trump entered the White House, nothing has been predictable for American farmers. But for 15 members of the advisory council, Trump’s trade war has brought more than $2 million in Market Facilitation Payments, the Department of Agriculture program for farmers whose access to the Chinese market has been cut off by the president’s tariffs.

EWG obtained data on the payments from USDA through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Market Facilitation Payments to Trump’s Ag Campaign Advisors

Name, Farm Location Position Payment
John J. Armstrong Muscota, Kan. Kansas Wheat Commission member $80,026
Michael D. Brandenburg  Edgely, N.D. State representative, North Dakota $118,106
John S. Dalrymple III Casselton, N.D. Governor, North Dakota, 2010-2016 $256,668
Rodney L. Davis Florissant, Mo. U.S. representative (R-Ill.), House Agriculture Commission $1,034
Steve L. Foglesong Astoria, Ill. Former president, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association $14,612
Ronald Ray Heck Perry, Iowa Past president, American Soybean Association $168,147
Charlotte Kelley Burlison, Tenn.  Cotton grower, former county Republican Party chair $874,842
Ted A. McKinney Tipton, Ind. Under secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, USDA $6,308
Jim Moseley Clarks Hill, Ind. Former deputy secretary, USDA $15,624
Jim L. Reese Nardin, Okla. Former Oklahoma secretary of agriculture $21,300
Marcus Rust Remington, Ind. CEO, Rose Acre Farms, second largest egg producer in U.S. $54,058
Leslie Rutledge Marion, Ark. (wife of recipient Boyce Johnson ) Arkansas attorney general $35,780
Kip Tom Leesburg, Ind. U.S. ambassador to U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture $509,342
Steve Wellman Syracuse, Neb. Director, Nebraska Department of Agriculture $41,022
Walt Whitcomb Waldo, Maine Former Maine agriculture commissioner $2,904
Total $2,199,773

Source: EWG, from USDA data obtained via the Freedom of Information Act

Among the Trump campaign advisors receiving MFP payments is Kip Tom, who is one of the largest corn, soybean and seed growers in Indiana. Last year Trump appointed him the Rome-based ambassador to the United Nations for food and agriculture. Toms Farms Partners, one of his businesses, received $509,000 in MFP payments.

Among other notable members of the advisory committee:

  • Charlotte Kelly, who owns a 14,000-acre Tennessee cotton farm, received $874,000 in MFP payments.
  • Jack Dalrymple, a wheat and soybean farmer who was the Republican governor of North Dakota from 2010 to 2016, received $256,668 in payments.
  • Ron Heck of Iowa, past president of the American Soybean Association, received $168,147.
  • North Dakota state Rep. Mike Brandenburg, whose farms grow wheat, corn and soybeans, received $118,106.

Billions of dollars in MFP payments have also flowed into the bank accounts of “city slickers” who live in the nation’s largest cities and mega-farms owned by America’s richest farmers ­– not to small struggling family farmers and minority farmers.

One of the Trump ag council’s campaign talking points was “A Trump administration will change things. You will have the government off your back and out of your pocket.”

A trade war that has cut off many growers from their most important market is hardly getting government off farmers’ backs. And $2 million in bailouts? The government is definitely in these advisory council members’ pockets.

Taken from: https://www.ewg.org/agmag/2019/08/trump-campaign-advisors-receive-over-2-million-trade-bailout-payments

Investors urge “no” vote on revised NAFTA agreement

DATE: 

Sep 12th 2019

Citing concerns that NAFTA 2.0 will expand prescription drug monopoly protections and drive up drug prices by thwarting competition, investors urge lawmakers to vote ‘no’ on current agreement.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

NEW YORK, NY, THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 12TH, 2019 – Members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) sent a letter to the U.S. Congress today urging a “no” vote on the renegotiated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), citing concerns that the current agreement contains provisions locking in extended monopoly rights for pharmaceutical companies and furthering the trend of unsustainably high drug prices.

The revised NAFTA agreement requires signatory governments to guarantee pharmaceutical corporations various means to extend the duration of their 20-year patent monopolies, which would delay the sale of cheaper generic versions of medicines.

“Currently, one in seven Americans cannot take their medications because the cost is too high,” said Kathryn McCloskey, Director of Social Responsibility for United Church Funds. “In its current form, the revised NAFTA threatens to increase drug prices and delay patient access to more affordable generic and biosimilar medicine, further exacerbating the current crisis of affordability in the U.S.”

ICCR members engage some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to promote the increased access and affordability of medicines. They argue that the NAFTA agreement would impose new barriers to the development of lower-cost medicines and incentivize a shift away from the core industry mission of addressing the world’s most pressing health issues via innovation and development of new life-saving medicines.

Of additional concern are the Agreement’s proposed concessions to manufacturers of biologic drugs. The revised NAFTA would lock the U.S. into a regime that keeps cancer and other cutting-edge biologic prices excessively high, while exporting the model to Mexico, which does not provide any additional exclusivity period for biologics, and Canada, which now only has an eight-year period.

“As long-term investors in the pharmaceutical industry, faith- and values-based investors are concerned that NAFTA 2.0 provides continued incentives to specialty drug companies to pursue unsustainable business strategies that further delay competition, and are based on drug price increases, rather than the development of new life-saving medicines,” said Meg Jones-Monteiro, ICCR’s Program Director for Health Equity. The U.S. should not be exporting its bad policies elsewhere.”

The proposed NAFTA 2.0 (referred to by the Trump administration as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) was signed by the three countries late last year. All three must ratify the agreement, but so far only Mexico’s legislature has done so.  The Trump administration is pushing for swift approval, and the deal could be put to a vote in the House at any time. And while Speaker Pelosi has not yet set a specific timeline for the vote, a vote by the end of the year seems likely. The House Democratic caucus has thus far delayed voting, expressing concern that the deal will raise drug costs for Americans.

The White House can now submit implementing legislation to Congress, and under “fast-track” rules for voting on trade agreements, the House would have to hold a vote within 60 days. The Senate would then need to vote within 30 days.

Canadian investors have similar concerns.

“As Canadian investors in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry we rely on companies to add value for investors and patients globally. NAFTA 2.0 includes provisions that would hurt patients across borders and require that Canada amends laws that currently keep drugs affordable for Canadians,” said Rosa van den Beemt, Senior ESG Manager at NEI Investments. “It would also create barriers that we believe prevent healthy competition in the pharmaceutical market.”

In January of this year, ICCR was a signatory to a Congressional letter written by a coalition of groups representing healthcare providers, public health experts and people of faith, warning that the proposed NAFTA 2.0 would undermine efforts to expand access to affordable medicines.

Investors say it is critical that members of Congress retain the right to enact reforms to lower prescription drug prices, including by modifying biologic exclusivity to address health care budgets and the deficit. They are continuing to urge legislators to pursue domestic drug pricing reforms that would promote competition, curb monopoly abuses, and leverage government negotiating power.

CONTACT:

Susana McDermott
Director of Communications
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
212-870-2938
smcdermott@iccr.org

About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
Celebrating its 49th year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of shareholder advocates who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for social change. Its 300 member organizations comprise faith communities, socially responsible asset managers, unions, pensions, NGOs and other socially responsible investors with combined assets of over $500 billion. ICCR members engage hundreds of corporations annually in an effort to foster greater corporate accountability. www.iccr.org

 

 

Taken From: https://www.iccr.org/investors-urge-no-vote-revised-nafta-agreement?fbclid=IwAR1mF9DX0NlLEcfouRkRPO0DgQ6xUAE6MIbb50OmNXMePnj4KKKLEQgGWcc

Letter from Max Rose to PSFC

Thank you for meeting with my office regarding the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) renegotiations. I appreciate hearing from you about this important issue. 

Screen Shot 2019-09-13 at 8.40.28 AMAs a strong supporter of labor unions, I understand the tremendous impact that trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement have had on working Americans. I share your concerns for the rights of workers to organize in labor unions and collectively bargain for better working conditions, wages, and protections, as well as your concerns about access to affordable, life-saving drugs.

It is vital that before Congress votes on a new agreement with Canada and Mexico, we ensure the legislative language is strong enough to hold all parties accountable in maintaining strong labor standards. If the American worker is not able to compete on a level playing field, it will not only cost us economic benefits, but justifiably impact the faith the working class has in our government’s ability to look out for their interests. 

Our relationship with our neighboring countries should not be a race-to-the-bottom, but rather a collective effort to ensure the best interests of our citizens. The current agreement fails to provide the necessary infrastructure and resources that will ensure compliance on labor standards. 

Additionally, any new agreement must contain provisions that protect the health and wellbeing of American citizens. The proposed USMCA protects pharmaceutical companies that develop biologics from cheaper competition for ten years, which is longer than the five years they have monopoly power in Mexico and the eight years of exclusivity in Canada. 

Thus, the USMCA gives more power to charge higher prices for longer and will have harmful consequences for patients. These provisions will enable pharmaceutical companies to impose exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs, which threatens my constituents in dire need of treatment. I oppose this clause and joined my Congressional colleagues in signing onto a letter to Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative, urging him to include medicine provisions that will benefit American patients, not harm them.

Thank you again for coming in. I welcome your thoughts and I look forward to continuing to hear from you.  I also encourage you to regularly visit my website at http://maxrose.house.gov, where you can find up-to-date information on my work on behalf of our community and sign up for my e-newsletter.

Thank you,

Max Rose

Centrist ‘New Democrats’ demand for quick vote on ‘New NAFTA’ irks Machinists

WASHINGTON (PAI)—A demand by 14 representatives who style themselves “new Democrats” for a quick House up-or-down vote on Donald Trump’s “new NAFTA” has irked the Machinists, one of the Trump pact’s staunchest foes.

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And the so-called “new Dems” may not get their way, either. That’s because the leader of the eight-person Democratic team negotiating over legislation to implement the controversial so-called “free trade” pact told her hometown paper during the recent congressional recess that the new NAFTA won’t come up this year.

Machinists President Bob Martinez sent the union’s letter on Sept. 9 to the lawmakers after he learned of their prior demand to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

In their missive to Pelosi, the 14, led by Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, supported the talks Pelosi’s bargaining team are holding with top Trump trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer.

But they warned “it is imperative we reach a negotiated agreement early in the fall” and vote “by the end of the year.”

Veteran pro-worker lawmaker Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., an outspoken foe of prior anti-worker “free trade” pacts and a renowned “nose counter” among her colleagues, leads the bargainers. She’s already told interviewers for one of her hometown papers in Connecticut that a vote—if there is one—won’t occur till next year.

Who are the “New Democrats”?

Martinez, in his letter to Allred and the other pro-NAFTA Democrats, says there shouldn’t be a vote until the “new NAFTA” is drastically rewritten to help workers, not corporate interests.

“NAFTA 2.0 will foster the continuing outsourcing of U.S. jobs to Mexico, as companies seek to take advantage of workers who do not enjoy fundamental rights.

“Strong and enforceable labor standards, which are missing from the agreement, must be included in its text. Other provisions that would remove the incentive to outsource U.S. manufacturing jobs must be addressed.

“In aerospace and related industries alone, thousands of jobs that could have been created in the U.S. are now contributing to more than 40,000 jobs that have been created in Mexico.”

Martinez explained the “new NAFTA’s” labor chapter, which is actually part of the agreement’s text, is still weak. He said it’s been copied from the current U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, another weak “free trade” pact.

He also said the new NAFTA will still deny Mexican workers basic rights, including the right to organize, collectively bargain, and “be free from child labor and forced labor.”

“We can do better. We must do better,” Martinez wrote the lawmakers.

Organized labor, in general, has made those same points to Pelosi, DeLauro, other lawmakers, and Lighthizer. Though Trump is also pushing for a “new NAFTA” vote—on the implementing legislation, not the pact itself—by the end of this year, DeLauro’s statement and labor’s opposition appear to put that goal in doubt.

Besides Allred, Martinez’s letter went to Democratic Reps. Scott Peters, Kendra Horn, Haley Stevens, Anthony Brindisi, Joe Cunningham, Lizzie Fletcher, Ben McAdams, Josh Harder, T.J. Cox, Luis Correa, Sharice Davids, Susie Lee, and Greg Stanton.

Taken From: https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/centrist-new-democrats-demand-for-quick-vote-on-new-nafta-irks-machinists/

Bad news for parents: Trump’s trade war with China will hit back-to-school supplies

Some of the standard student gear and supplies are on the list

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

Parents suffering sticker shock on back-to-school spending this fall better brace themselves — the latest round of Chinese tariffs are likely to make next year’s shopping spree even more expensive.

A new round of 15% tariffs went into effect Sunday on $112 billion in Chinese goods. Some of the standards in back-to-school equipment and accessories are on the latest list. They include pencils and crayons, sneakers, boys’ and girls’ overcoats and windbreakers, calendars, and ball-point pens.

Prices on those items aren’t expected to go up immediately, because the items in stores now were shipped months ago, but shoppers could feel the pinch at the start of next school year, Bethany Aronhalt, a National Retail Federation spokeswoman, told MarketWatch.

“Unfortunately, American families could see higher prices in the coming months and throughout the school year as the impact of the tariffs works through the supply chain and companies have no choice but to pass along costs to consumers,” Aronhalt added. “Small businesses in particular won’t be able to absorb the cost and will be forced to raise prices.”

President Trump’s trade war with China will add yet another layer of costs for many families who are already getting squeezed by day-care costs and extracurricular activities. In May, Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists said American families would spend an extra $831 annually because of tariffs on Chinese imports.

Those calculations focused on the earlier tariff hike from 15% to 25% for imported Chinese goods worth $200 billion, impacting everything from livestock and produce to textiles and chemicals. The current tariffs extend to approximately 69% of all consumer goods. The previous tariffs will likely affect soaps, deodorants, electronics and raw materials for some toys.

Families have already been contending with increased prices on back-to-school gear due to old-fashioned inflation and the usual annual price hikes. Families will spend a record $691 on school supplies this year, according to National Retail Federation estimates. That’s up from $685 last year and exceeds $689 in 2012, the previous record, according to the NRF.

Overall, families with children from kindergarten to 12th grade are projected to spend $26.2 billion on back-to-school supplies, less than the $27.5 billion spent last year, despite the price hikes, but that’s because fewer families said they had kids between elementary and high-school age.

Sports apparel and sneaker makers Nike NKE, +1.53%  and Under ArmourUAA, +3.02%   could not be immediately reached for comment. Likewise, spokespeople for the crayon maker Crayola and VF Corporation VFC, +1.56%, the company that owns brands like JanSport, Eastpak and The North Face, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Taken From: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/bad-news-for-parents-trumps-trade-war-with-china-will-hit-back-to-school-supplies-2019-09-03?reflink=MW_GoogleNews

Mexico’s move toward food self-sufficiency confronts GMOs

Amidst various news cycles of absurd demands and hateful reactions in the U.S., I was recently struck by some hopeful news of civility and constructive engagement from Mexico.

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Adelita San Vicente Tello, director of the non-governmental organization Semillas de Vida (Seeds of Life) and a leader in the Mexican Sin Maíz No Hay País (No Corn, No Country) campaign, wrote to say that she would be moving on from her organization to take a position in the progressive López Obrador administration.

This is exciting news for several reasons. To start, in June, more than 200 Mexican scientists, campesino, indigenous, student and other civil society leaders (including Dr. San Vicente) sent a letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador insisting that he issue a presidential decree to establish a comprehensive biosafety policy to protect native varieties of corn and other key crops. They proposed that the decree require signs in the 26,000 Diconsa public stores explaining that corn sold there should only be eaten and not planted so as not to contaminate native corn; prohibit permits for planting GMO seeds, including those produced through new gene editing techniques; establish a moratorium on U.S. corn imports as these protections are phased in, as well as sterilizing or grinding imported corn to prevent its use as seeds; conduct systematic monitoring of GMOs and expansion of scientific facilities in the Agriculture Ministry to detect them; improve research on biosecurity and food safety issues related to GMOs; and develop new regulations in the Environment Ministry on these issues.

The groups also propose that the Mexican Congress develop comprehensive reforms to the Law of Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms to protect native species and support enforcement of commitments in the Convention of Biodiversity Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and recommendations made by the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation in 2004.

These demands are part of a continuing dialogue with the government on the best ways to reform the country’s farm system. In his inaugural speech on December 1, President López Obrador listed one hundred commitments, including achieving self-sufficiency in basic grains and doing so without opening up the country to planting GMOs.

In her note, Dr. San Vicente explained that, as a speaker in a recent public conference, she had challenged the government’s lack of action on rules on GMOs to protect the country’s biological and cultural heritage. Rather than dismissing or ignoring her complaint, she was invited to take over as Director of Primary Goods and Natural Resources in the Ministry of the Environment, charged with developing the rules to resolve that problem. The fact that the Ministry is now led by Víctor Manuel Toledo, a prominent biologist and outspoken ecologist, is also cause for optimism.

To be clear, Mexico continues to rely on massive imports of corn and other grains from the U.S., nearly all of which is genetically modified. That corn is mostly used in animal feed, as an input in the complex North American meat and feed supply chain, but consumers also use field corn as an ingredient in tortillas and other food. Planting of GMO corn and other crops is currently prohibited through legal actions, but there are documented cases of genetic contamination of Mexican corn throughout the country. As the birthplace of corn and the origin of dozens of local varieties, corn plays an important role in the country’s cultural heritage, biodiversity and food security.

I spoke to Malin Jönsson, the new Coordinator of Semillas de Vida, to learn more about the initiative on biosafety. She explained that the government is required to issue a response within 90 days. In the meantime, civil society groups will be engaging with members of the Mexican Congress (which began its new session on September 1) to follow up with new laws on these and other emerging issues.

In addition to legislative changes, Semillas de Vida is seeking ways to enhance ties between farmers and consumers, so that consumers recognize the value and qualities of locally produced landrace [heirloom] corn and are thus willing to pay fair prices for those goods. She told me, “One of the main threats confronting local corn varieties, especially in the context of trade liberalization, is the low prices paid to farmers. Increasing the demand for landrace corn by spreading information about its nutritional, cultural, traditional, historical and biological value is vital to increase demand and open up new niche markets. The goal is to diminish the gap between farmers and consumers, increasing the prices paid to farmers and providing consumers secure access to healthy, culturally appropriate food.”

None of this will be easy. Pro-GMO groups issued their own response countering the June letter, insisting that the measures it proposes are “uninformed, anti-democratic and impractical.” In addition, under the rules of the new North American Free Trade Agreement (the new NAFTA, also known as the United States Mexico Canada Agreement/USMCA), countries must streamline rules on approval of genetically modified or edited products of agricultural biotechnology, with the goal that products approved in one county would be approved for use in others. The new NAFTA also sets rules on so-called Low-Level Presence of GMOs in imports, making it more difficult for local authorities to reject imports of shipments contaminated with unapproved GMOs. And its new chapter on Good Regulatory Practices opens to door for companies in all three countries to weaken and delay any new or existing environmental or public health rules they find bothersome, potentially including these ambitious new plans. Under pressure from the U.S. on a variety of fronts, the Mexican Senate approved the new NAFTA in June. Approval is still pending in Canada and the U.S., where many legislators and civil society groups are insisting that no vote occur until the agreement is substantially changed.

The new NAFTA also requires that parties ratify the 1991 version of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91). That convention requires intellectual property protections for plants for 20 to 25 years and stops farmers and breeders from exchanging protected seeds. The previous version of the treaty, which Mexico has already ratified, provides an exception for small scale farmers; the 1991 version eliminates that option. Mexico agreed to join UPOV 91 within four years when it ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), but it seems much more likely that the U.S. would demand the implementation of those protections on behalf of U.S. agribusinesses than that other trading partners in the CPTPP would do so.

Despite these potential obstacles, the plans to develop a food and farm system that works for Mexico, one that aims to achieve food self-sufficiency without sacrificing the country’s biodiversity and cultural heritage, is part of an unfolding, active and very public debate. While there are encouraging signs of new ideas on fair and sustainable food systems now in the U.S., in Mexico, the hard work of making those kinds of ideas real has already begun.

Taken From: https://www.iatp.org/blog/201909/mexicos-move-toward-food-self-sufficiency-confronts-gmos

Reflections on the August GM vote to fund a production of ‘Sweat’

Letter to the editor of the LineWaiters Gazette

1-0One point, articulated five times,  convinced about 2/3 of those present to reject the proposal submitted as part of the work of the International Trade Education Squad (ITES).   ITES requested that the Coop fund the presentation of a play about NAFTA.  Framing that discussion was the on-going debate about the extent to which the PSFCoop is a business and the extent to which we are a community.

Think this through as a philosophical challenge, and an ethical one.   Competing versions of the Coop’s evolution claim authority as ‘the way we do it here’ because we have no official written history. Early GM minutes recorded debates.  Recent minutes have been skeletal.   Gazette reports are better, though often incomplete.

This debate was not about whether the Coop can afford $3,800 and 20 work shifts for 450 members to see SWEAT, a Pulitzer winning play by Brooklynite Lynn Nottage, for free. The play is about what happened to unionized workers in Reading, Pennsylvania (2000 to 2008) when their factory was closed and moved to Mexico. It was about should the Coop use money for that.  Opponents repeated that the event would not enhance the functioning of the store selling food, implying that the proposal was outside of the business of the Coop.

ITES was approved as a permanent squad after two years of probation at the April 2017 GM. Squads studying the Environment, GMO labeling, Food Safety and Labor have been created to educate ourselves and others, acknowledging that making intelligent decisions depends upon being well-informed, and that buying food involves multiple factors, some of which are contaminated by the profit motive of the seller not prioritizing the well-being of consumers nor workers.

Offering quarterly public forums as per ITES’ founding mission, the squad has hosted discussions featuring researchers, professors, journalists and activists about how international trade affects us all.  At the beginning of the ITES presentation a sea of hands were raised when asked who wanted to see the play. The chair didn’t allow a final response by the presenter of the proposal.

The Trump administration is now pressing congress hard to pass the NAFTA2/USMCA this year.  The Citizen’s Trade Campaign insists upon enforceable protection of workers’ rights and the environment as well as eliminating the expansion of patent protections for drugs.

Through the art of theater,  we can share the human experiences that result from apparently abstract policy decisions included within an international trade agreement negotiated in secret  We want to make the performance available free, available to those burdened by exorbitant student debt or living on an insufficient fixed income.

I am disappointed and sad, not discouraged.  Rejecting Coop funding for SWEAT was a mistake.  We all make mistakes.  We can do this.

NOTE: Open Call auditions for actors and helpers at Irondale, Oxford St off Lafayette in Fort Greene, Monday Sept 16 from 6 to 9. Call 718 636 9089 with suggestions.

 

 

 

 

Why It’s Immigrants Who Pack Your Meat

The immigration raid recently at seven poultry plants in rural Mississippi was a perfect symbol of the Trump administration’s racism, lies, hypocrisy, and contempt for the poor.

Immigration Food Plant RaidsIt was also a case study in how an industry with a long history of defying the law has managed to shift the blame and punishment onto workers.

Planned for more than a year, the raid involved at least 600 agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, helicopters, and a staging area at a local National Guard base. The agents carried handguns, wore black body armor, and led 680 immigrant workers—almost all Latino, many of them women—to waiting buses with their hands zip-tied behind their backs. One worker, an American citizen, was shot with a Taser for resisting arrest. Children gathered outside the poultry plants crying as their parents were taken away and sent to private prisons; other kids sat in classrooms and at day-care centers, unaware that their families were being torn apart. It was the first week of school.

“The timing was unfortunate,” Kevin McAleenan, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, later acknowledged. Twenty-two people had been killed a few days earlier in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman had targeted Mexican customers at a Walmart out of a desire to halt “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” President Donald Trump expressed no regret and applauded the Mississippi raid, arguing that it would deter undocumented immigrants from taking American jobs. “I just hope to keep it up,” he said.

Despite the fact that the poultry workers were merely arrested, not yet found guilty, Mike Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, dismissed concerns about an 11-year-old girl photographed sobbing outside one of the plants. “I understand the girl’s upset, and I get that, but her father committed a crime,” Morgan told CNN. He also denied that “raids” had occurred, calling them “targeted law-enforcement operations.” His comments reinforced the big lie at the heart of Trump’s presidency: that undocumented immigrants are threatening and scary parasites who can be kept away with a wall. “The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States,” Trump said while running for office. “They are in many cases criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

As The Washington Post and others have noted, immigrants to the United States are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Far from being a drain on the American economy, immigrants have become an essential component of it. According to a recent study by the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, “The industrial produce and animal production and processing systems in the U.S. would collapse without the immigrant and migratory workforce.” The handful of multinational companies that dominate our food system are hardly being forced to employ immigrant workers. These firms have for many years embraced the opportunity to exploit them for profit.

More than a century ago, when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, the workers in American meatpacking plants were recent immigrants, largely from eastern Europe. Sinclair eloquently depicted the routine mistreatment of these poor workers. They were employed for long hours at low wages, exposed to dangerous working conditions, sexually abused, injured on the job, and fired after getting hurt. In the novel, the slaughterhouses of Chicago serve as a metaphor for the ruthless greed of America in the age of the robber barons, of a society ruled by the law of the jungle. During the following decades, the lives of meatpacking workers greatly improved, thanks to the growing strength of labor unions. And by the early 1970s, a job at a meatpacking plant offered stable employment, high wages, good benefits, and the promise of a middle-class life.

When I visited meatpacking communities in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, and Washington State almost 20 years ago, those gains had been lost. As I described in my book Fast Food Nation, published in 2001, the largest companies in the beef industry had recruited immigrants in Mexico, brought them to the meatpacking communities of the American West and Midwest, and used them during the Ronald Reagan era to break unions. Wages were soon cut by as much as 50 percent. Line speeds were increased, government oversight was reduced, and injured workers were once again forced to remain on the job or get fired. In The Chain, published in 2014, Ted Genoways wrote about similar changes in the pork industry. And in 2016’s Scratching Out a Living, Angela Stuesse wrote about the transformation of the poultry industry in the rural South, with a prescient focus on the abuse of Latino workers in Mississippi.

All three books reached the same conclusion: What Trump has described as an immigrant “invasion” was actually a corporate recruitment drive for poor, vulnerable, undocumented, often desperate workers.

One of the poultry plants that Stuesse explored, in the small town of Morton, Mississippi, was raided last week. B. C. Rogers, the company that owned the plant in 1994, launched a hiring drive that year called “The Hispanic Project.” Its goal was to replace African American workers, who were seeking a union, with immigrant workers who’d be more pliant. It placed ads in Miami newspapers, arranged transportation for immigrants, and charged them for housing in dilapidated trailers. Within four years, it had brought roughly 5,000 mainly Latino workers to Morton and another meatpacking town in Mississippi, enlarging their population by more than 50 percent. The poultry industry expanded throughout the rural South during the 1990s, drawn by the warm climate and the absence of labor unions. Tens of thousands of immigrant workers soon arrived to cut meat. Charlotte S. Alexander, an associate professor at the Georgia State College of Law put it succinctly: “In the poultry industry, location is a labor practice.”

The immigrant workers arrested in Mississippi the other day were earning about $12.50 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, during the late 1970s, the wages of meatpacking workers in Iowa and Colorado were about $50 an hour.

If you believe the numbers compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the injury rate among meatpacking workers has greatly declined in recent years. I don’t believe them. During the George W. Bush administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decided that cumulative trauma injuries no longer had to be recorded separately by meatpacking firms. As a result, from 2001 to 2003, the total number of injuries miraculously dropped by one-third. A few years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office admitted that meat and poultry workers “may underreport injuries and illnesses because they fear losing their jobs, and employers may underreport because of concerns about potential costs.” One study suggested that two-thirds of the injuries in American meatpacking plants are never officially recorded.

Even if you accept the accuracy of the official statistics, meatpacking remains an unusually dangerous and unpleasant occupation, with an injury rate much higher than that of other manufacturing jobs. Poultry workers stand close to one another with sharp knives, repeating the same motion again and again more than 15,000 times in a single shift, slicing birds as they pass on conveyor belts every two seconds. A 2013 investigation by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 42 percent of the workers at a poultry plant in South Carolina were suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. The work is bloody, difficult, and full of potential harms. Lacerations are commonplace, and the high prevalence of fecal bacteria in poultry plants increases the risk that wounds will become infected. A study of poultry workers in Maryland and Virginia found that they were 32 times more likely than other residents of the area to be carriers of antibiotic-resistant E. coli. Poultry workers suffer from respiratory ailments, chemical burns, fractures, concussions, eye damage, sprains, strains, concussions, and exposure to toxic fumes. Reporting on the industry for The New Yorker, Michael Grabell counted more than 750 amputations from 2010 to 2017.

Last year, two employees of Peco Foods, which operates one of the plants raided in Mississippi, survived amputations during separate accidents at the same facility in Arkansas—and yet OSHA never visited the plant to look for safety problems after the accidents. Deborah Berkowitz, a former OSHA official who now handles worker-safety issues for the National Employment Law Project, told me that the Trump administration’s close ties to the meatpacking industry are making the work even more dangerous. OSHA’s enforcement activity has declined since Trump took office, and the agency now has the fewest inspectors since it was created in 1971.

The emotional toll of working in a poultry plant can be worse than some of the physical ailments. Koch Foods, the current owner of the plant in Morton, settled a case in 2018 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although the company admitted neither guilt nor wrongdoing, it paid $3.75 million to workers at the Morton plant who claimed to have been sexually harassed and punished for refusing to comply. The case brings to mind passages from The Jungle, with female employees allegedly grabbed and groped by supervisors, offered money for sex, promised better jobs in return for bribes, and demoted to humiliating jobs as retribution. Owned by Joseph Grendys, a Chicago multibillionaire, Koch Foods was also cited by the Department of Agriculture for discriminating against African American poultry farmers. According to an investigation by ProPublica this summer, 173 poultry farmers have contracts with Koch Foods in Mississippi, and none of them is black.

In addition to ignoring the poultry industry’s abuse of immigrant workers, the Trump administration has eliminated regulations that protect poultry farmers from being treated unfairly. It has exempted factory farms from Environmental Protection Agency rules governing the release of air pollution. It is permitting the increase of line speeds at poultry and pork slaughterhouses, making worker injuries more likely and jeopardizing food safety.

Mike Hurst, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, helped coordinate the immigration raid and joined ICE agents on the scene. He is the leading Justice Department official in America’s poorest state, one with a history of racist brutality and some of the lowest rates of undocumented immigration in the country. (Perhaps 0.7 percent of the population of Mississippi is currently undocumented.) “The execution of federal search warrants today was simply about enforcing the rule of law in our state and throughout our great country,” Hurst claimed in a press release. He later defended the raid during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. “This administration, this president, is all about law and order,” he said. And he said it with a straight face. No top executive of a major meatpacking company has been arrested for violating immigration, worker-safety, food-safety, antitrust, or environmental laws. The adjectives shameful and disgracefuldon’t approach the reality of what is now taking place.

Over the years, I’ve spent time with countless farmworkers and meatpacking workers who entered the United States without proper documentation. Almost all of them were hardworking and deeply religious. They had taken enormous risks and suffered great hardships on behalf of their families. Today workers like them are the bedrock of our food system. And they are now being scapegoated, hunted down, and terrorized at the direction of a president who inherited about $400 million from his father, watches television all day, and employs undocumented immigrants at his golf resorts.

The day after the immigration raid in Mississippi, the United Nations issued a report suggesting that everyone should eat less meat to reduce the impact of climate change. That’s a good recommendation. An even better one would be: Don’t buy anything produced by America’s large industrial meatpacking companies. Every dollar that you give them now is blood money, literally and figuratively.

By Eric Schloss for the Atlantic