Fast Track to nowhere: Part 2 – Throwing caution to the winds

Photo by Wendy Colucci of the CNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, republished under Creative Commons license.

Photo by Wendy Colucci of the CNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, republished under Creative Commons license.

Despite the secrecy around specific free trade pact provisions in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), we know that “international standards” rule and local / state / national food rules get overruled. In practice, look for weakening European food safety and food integrity rules, and strengthening the hand of agribusiness. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) summarizes: Agribusiness is “pushing to rollback regulations that hinder their profits at the expense of food safety, farmers and ranchers, consumers and animal welfare.”

Confused about the fast track trade debate? You’re not alone. The eye-glazing complexities of trade policy make a lot of people throw up their hands and give up. But you shouldn’t do that. Trade policy affects air, water, soil, plants, pollinators, immigration, workers’ rights, local control, zoning … the list goes on and on. “Free trade” legislation sells out all of our rights. This is one of a series of posts explaining, in plain language, some of the reasons “free” trade costs all of us.

In free trade agreements, Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions and attacks on the “precautionary principle” prevent or overturn health and safety and environmental protections.

The “precautionary principle” is a standard in many European Union health and safety decisions. That principle is summarized as:

“Where there is uncertainty as to the existence or extent of risks of serious or irreversible damage to the environment, or injury to human health, adequate protective measures must be taken without having to wait until the reality and seriousness of those risks become fully apparent.”

In other words, if Pesticide X might or might not endanger pollinators or cause asthma in children, then it cannot be used until the risks are fully evaluated. Or, if the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth probably, but not certainly, causes the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, then the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth will be prohibited.

A 2014 IATP analysis explained:

“Of particular concern are chemicals that disrupt the delicate hormone balance in the human body. The EU’s Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) is a process firmly grounded in the Precautionary Principle. To the contrary, in the U.S. the outdated Toxics Substance Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) puts pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to prove that chemicals are unsafe, rather than on the industries producing the chemicals to prove that they are safe before they enter the market.”

If the free trade agreements’ attacks on the precautionary principle succeed, then individual investors will be allowed to sue governments to overturn health protections. That’s not a government-to-government negotiation, but an investor versus government lawsuit that gives investors the upper hand.

A New Zealand article describes how this works:

“Trade agreements can constrain preventative health policy by empowering foreign investors to sue governments if changes to health regulations interfere with the value of an investment or its anticipated profits (known as “Investor State Dispute Settlement” or “ISDS”). Referring to this phenomenon, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) stated earlier this year:

“‘One particularly disturbing trend is the use of foreign investment agreements to handcuff governments and restrict their policy space… In my view, something is fundamentally wrong in this world when a corporation can challenge government policies introduced to protect the public from a product that kills.'”[17]

The WHO has it right: something is fundamentally wrong with the TPP and TTIP and the fast track legislation that sets the stage for their approval without amendment.


For detailed analysis of the trade deals and debates, I recommend the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. And keep watching News Day for more short articles on specific parts of the deals.

See also: Fast Track to nowhere: Part 1 – Get big or get out

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Filed under agriculture, environment, food and farming

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