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How an International Trade Agreement Could Affect the Buy Local Movement and Sustainable Agriculture

Last June, United States President Barack Obama, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy announced that the U.S. and the European Union began negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Various sources indicate that this free trade agreement would become the largest trade agreement ever established, as the U.S. and EU account for about one-third of trade globally. The agreement is intended to stimulate fragile markets and increase job creation in both regions. The U.S. and the EU had hopes to complete the agreement by year-end, however, navigating the wide variety of conflicting regulatory styles between the U.S. and the EU has proven more complicated than the timetable allowed. For those who have never heard of the TTIP—which seems to be many people as the agreement has had little coverage in U.S. mainstream media—this may be a good time to learn about the agreement and what it means for our local economy.

Free trade agreements typically seek to reduce trade tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Since tariffs between the U.S. and EU are already low, non-tariff barriers are the target of the TTIP. There are two ways being considered to address the non-tariff barriers between the two regions: mutual recognition of regulations and standards, meaning the U.S. and the EU would accept the standards of the other, or regulatory coherence, which means that regulations are “harmonized” to a mutually agreeable standard. Widely varying sources such as FaegreBD Consulting, The Hill, Sierra Club, The Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) at the University of Minnesota, and the Trade Justice Movement of the Fairtrade Foundation all suggest that the non-tariff barriers on the table include the two bodies’ differing restrictions on importing genetically engineered food, hormone-treated beef, and chlorine-washed poultry products; regulations that allow or sometimes require consumer information and country of origin labeling; and the ability of local governments to favor sourcing and employing locally (to name a few, in very, very broad terms). One area of particular concern is the future of programs such as Farm to School. The IATP noted in their October 2013 report Promises and Perils of the TTIP, “The U.S. Farm to School programs and similar initiatives in Italy, Denmark, and Austria, include bidding contract preferences for sustainable and locally grown foods in public procurement programs... Both the U.S. and the EU have criticized ‘localization barriers to trade.’” Weakening the EU’s GMO standards is also cause for alarm. According to Andreas Geiger, a blogger for The Hill, “The TTIP could be the ultimate way to solve the GMO dispute… the U.S. Senate Committee has recently stressed that any agreement must also reduce EU restrictions, among others, on GM crops.” By using the TTIP to lower the EU’s standards, the TTIP would also hamper any chance in the U.S. to raise GMO standards, including labeling transparency, something that the Willy Street Co-op strongly supports.

fair world project
Fair World Project, an independent campaign of the Organic Consumer’s Association, publicly registered concerns along with nearly 100 other organizations that the TTIP will hamper consumer protection and market transparency. Their November 11th letter to the three presidents urged “Trading partners must be free to establish facially non-discriminatory food safety, nutrition and labeling standards that are stronger than any harmonized norm set in an agreement and that meet the objective of consumer protection and environmental and ethical considerations. Each nation must be allowed to set such standards based on consumer demands and priorities alone, even in the face of scientific uncertainty.”

Discussions between the U.S. and the EU around the TTIP have mostly occurred in private. The IATP points out that in both regions, “The time to influence the substance of the agreement is before it is completed and submitted to the relevant legislative bodies for their votes for or against ratification. That’s a tricky task, since the negotiations are happening behind closed doors, but it means civil society groups and legislators needs to pay close attention.” So, the question now becomes: What is an Owner of a small locally owned grocery cooperative able to do?

  1. Start learning about the TTIP for yourself. A great way to start is to simply search “TTIP local agriculture” in your favorite web browser and select sources you find credible. For in-depth reading about how the TTIP might affect local agriculture and local economies, visit the IATP’s website Search for their report: “Promises and Perils of the TTIP.”

  2. Contact your federal legislators and President Obama. Let them know what you think about the TTIP. The sooner the better. Ask them to promote a trade agreement with Europe that is negotiated with transparency and values the highest standards for consumer protection, food safety, and labeling. Make sure they know the ability to source and employ locally matters to you.

  3. Find out what larger entities share your values and your concerns regarding the TTIP negotiations and see if there are opportunities for you to donate to their efforts, sign their petitions, or volunteer your voice.

Willy Street Co-op was founded in desiring greater knowledge of the food we consume in order to support the greater good. We desire certain transparencies when it comes to the products we consume: knowing what is in our food, knowing how our food is made, knowing where our food is grown and produced, and knowing who produces that food. We have a rich tradition of sourcing local whenever possible, favoring local, fairly traded, and organic suppliers even if their products are only available at a greater cost, and also supporting environmentally sustainable farming practices through our purchasing choices. We favor fairness, transparency, and local proximity in our products over strictly competitive pricing, and we also demonstrate our commitment to serving the greater good via serving the greater food through the efforts we support: the Non-GMO Project; the Truth in Labeling Coalition’s Women in the Senate Campaign to urge labeling of genetically engineered foods; the Farm-to-School movement; Principle Six—The Cooperative Trade Movement; and disclosing the origins of our meat and produce, for some examples. Your Ownership supports these values, and it is our hope that those values continue to be reflected in your lunchbox and on your dinner plate. It is within this context that we felt it important to bring the potential TTIP trade agreement to our Owner’s attention. Should we engage in any advocacy efforts on our end, we will certainly keep you in the loop. Please contact us if you have any questions about the sources of our information, or about how you, or we, can become better informed.

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