Trade Justice

CAGJ works for Trade Justice by organizing to end the current US trade model that prioritizes profits over people and the environment, and works to offer viable alternatives.

Through membership in the WA Fair Trade Coalition, CAGJ continues our historic organizing to halt so-called Free Trade Agreements — such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the supposed renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — which are in reality pro-corporate investment deals. The TPP may have been cancelled, but similar provisions damaging to working families and the environment are still on the corporate (and current administration) agenda.

We seek to increase public understanding of trade by educating and advocating about the links between trade and our food system, food sovereignty, immigrant rights, climate justice and economic justice.

In particular, we help to articulate a vision of trade (fair trade, not “free” trade) that will raise global food, agricultural, environmental, health and labor standards, not lower them.

Fighting NAFTA 2.0

"New NAFTA" would worsen the family farm crisis and keep consumers in the dark about their food

This analysis is from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, written by Karen Hansen-Kuhn on Feb 11, 2019.

The economic state of U.S. agriculture is dire. The Federal Reserve Banks of Kansas City, Minneapolis and Chicago report that a growing percentage of U.S. farmers cannot pay the interest on their loans. Five years of falling cash receipts for agricultural commodities is eroding equity for operations that are not forced out of farming. Maximizing production to “export to prosperity” relies on agricultural practices that expose U.S. consumers to fertilizer nitrates in water, to pesticide and chemical residues in produce, and to contaminated foods. Consumer information about food, including country of origin and information on additives and genetically engineered ingredients, is non-existent or difficult to understand.

The New NAFTA proposes to remedy this situation by increasing agribusiness exports and further limiting regulation of food safety and the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture—policies that will worsen both farmers’ economic straits and the safety of our food.

“Business as usual” fixes fail to address farmers’ needs and undermine sustainable agriculture:

  • Measures in the New NAFTA to open Canada’s dairy market to increased exports from the U.S. would not significantly reduce the vast oversupply of U.S. raw milk, or increase prices paid to U.S. dairy farmers. The Canadian market is simply too small. But, that opening would greatly weaken Canada’s successful supply management program, which has achieved market-based prosperity for its farmers.
  • The New NAFTA’s prohibition on use of WTO agricultural safeguards (temporary tariff protections) against surges of cheap imports, often priced at below the cost-of-production, would eliminate a policy tool used by all three countries to defend against unfair and unstable markets.
  • Restrictions on agricultural support programs to make them trade compliant would expose programs to strengthen local markets—including Mexico’s bold new initiative for food security—to potential trade challenges.

Limits on scientific data used to set food safety and agricultural biotechnology standards would increase risks to human health and the environment:

  • The New NAFTA allows agribusinesses to maintain testing data and studies for agricultural chemicals as Confidential Business Information, despite peer-reviewed evidence of damage to public and environmental health and to commerce. This includes, for example, data pertaining to the Environmental Protection Agency’s commercial authorization of Dicamba™, a pesticide so volatile that it cannot be applied without damage, except to crops engineered to resist it.
  • New language on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards “streamlines” administrative determinations that foreign food safety, plant and animal health, and animal welfare measures are “equivalent” to U.S. measures, despite evidence that they are not.
  • Provisions on “Low Level Presence Occurrence” of genetically engineered or edited agriculture products unauthorized in the importing country fail to establish quantitative thresholds or agreed sampling and testing methods for GE products, potentially opening markets to unauthorized new agricultural products with no risk assessment.

New rules on labeling and regulatory processes would create roadblocks to improvements in food, health and public safety:

  • New food labeling restrictions would allow companies to hide food additives and ingredients in processed foods as “proprietary” trade secrets.
  • A new chapter on so-called “Good Regulatory Practices” would increase burdens on regulators by requiring cross-border consultation and harmonization, trade impact studies, and voluntary measures resulting in delaying and impeding the development, enactment and enforcement of protections for consumers, workers and the environment.

The new NAFTA is a huge missed opportunity to reform our trade, food and farm system. Instead of worsening the current situation, trade rules to improve outcomes for family farmers and consumers would:

  1. Favor domestic markets and rural livelihoods through provisions that explicitly provide for temporary import safeguards, agricultural support programs and anti-dumping measures.
  2. Increase transparency in developing and implementing food safety and labeling rules by limiting claims of Confidential Business Information for studies, data and documents used in regulatory activities that pertain to human, plant, animal and environmental health.
  3. Enhance consumers’ information about the food they eat by insisting that Canada and Mexico drop their WTO complaints against U.S. Country of Origin labeling for meat products, thus allowing Congress to reestablish this popular program.
  4. Ensure that governments are free to develop and implement public protection standards without imposing additional limitations on programs considered trade distorting, and that any programs on regulatory cooperation or equivalence are voluntary and not enforceable through dispute settlement.
  5. Require that any equivalency agreements for food safety and plant and animal health include rigorous inspection and audits of facilities in the export supply chain.
  6. Explicitly permit governments to reject imports of unauthorized products of agricultural biotechnology.

For more detailed analysis and updates on NAFTA and agriculture, visit

We defeated the TPP!

The TPP was the largest “free-trade” agreement negotiated since the WTO. It included 12 countries, encompassing nearly 40% of the global economy. The deal would have further protected corporate investment overseas, rolled back food safety regulations, weakened environmental protection, inflated medicine prices, and threatened internet freedom.

Negotiated behind closed doors with the aid of hundreds of corporate lobbyists, the TPP epitomized the type of back-room deal making that favors corporate elites over working families. This is the very thing that Americans and so many others have been revolting against in recent years.

Let us be clear what happened here. Trump pulled the U.S. out, but the TPP was already on life support because of our efforts. Even with a US President, Congressional leaders and corporate lobbyists united against us, progressives were able to defeat their agenda by uniting together across issue areas and across borders!

Now, NAFTA is being “renegotiated.”  With intentionally vague statements coming from the White House and an administration riddled with corporate billionaires, we know what to expect. Under the smokescreen of “bringing jobs back,” and with a barrage of attacks on Mexico and migrants, once again NAFTA bargaining is going on behind closed doors with corporate lobbyists.  We will not allow NAFTA to be “updated” with TPP-style revisions.

What Do We Want?

With other progressive groups, we are working on a clear statement of what Fair Trade would be.  Here is a taste, as applied to CAGJ’s focus on Food Sovereignty:

  • Workers, producers and agricultural families in our food chains are guaranteed dignity and economic security. This includes living wages, enforceable labor standards and the rights to organize.
  • Consumers have access to safe and healthy and culturally appropriate food. Criteria will be defined at a local level.  Safety standards will be raised to the highest level.
  • Consumers know where their food comes from. The right to require labeling and promote supply-chain traceability and accountability is protected.
  • Localities are able to define food and agricultural policy, enforce local buying, develop farm support and agroecological systems, and subsidize poor farmers and consumers.
  • These provisions will be enforceable in trade agreements. Agribusiness will not have rights to override them in unaccountable international “courts.”

Get Involved

Contact CAGJ, and stay informed.  Be in touch with policy-makers, write letters to the editor, use social media, speak up about trade issues at meetings or with friends, and show up for picket lines or rallies.

Resources on the link between access to food and trade justice

About the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the largest free-trade agreement negotiated since the World Trade Organization. The trade zone would stretch across 12 countries (The United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam) and other countries may join later.  Lori Wallach calls the TPP "NAFTA on steroids" because it not only seeks to replicate the conditions of NAFTA in a much larger trade zone, but further expands protections for multi-national corporations across 40% of the global economy. But the scorecard from NAFTA is in: it has encouraged the manufacturing sector to leave the U.S. while forcing Mexican farmers off their land and into poverty conditions in the United States.

The dismal consequences of NAFTA, however, have not been the substance of democratic debate because negotiations of the TPP are kept secret from the public and Congress. Only “trade advisory groups” have access to the text of the TPP and the negotiations. These groups are drawn from 600 of the largest agri-business corporations to help ensure that the trade agreements would increase their profits, regardless of the social costs.

Expanding the Corporate Food System

Islam Siddiqui, a former lobbyist for Monsanto, serves as the chief agricultural negotiator for the TPP. With the guidance of major food distributors, bio-tech companies, and agri-food corporations including Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, and Walmart, the TPP will expand the export markets for US agriculture. This does not just hurt small producers abroad, it hurts American farmers by increasing the power of the corporate-dominated food system across the globe.

The TPP also forces countries to lower regulatory standards to ensure that corporate food is deemed “safe.” Thus, low food safety standards, voluntary rather than mandatory GMO labeling, and patent-protections for bio-tech companies are all mandated in the TPP. In particular, by ensuring that seeds are protected by patents, farmers will be forced to purchase seeds, increasing farms costs, removing farmer’s longstanding knowledge and investments, and reducing overall global biodiversity.

Constraining Public Interest Regulation

Overall, the TPP is designed to make it easier to shift jobs throughout the world to wherever labor is the most exploited and environmental regulations are the weakest.  The trade terms will limit the possibility of passing public-interest regulation, by allowing “investors” to sue countries for any changes that could undermine their “expected future profits.” This includes a range of basic public-interest regulation, ranging from health and safety regulation to ensuring protections for organized labor. When corporations sue the countries, they enter an extra-judicial process determined by corporate arbitrators who can demand huge sums of money in damages.

Fast-Tracking Negotiations

The TPP started in 2002 as a proposed trade-partnership between just three countries. Quickly, however, it has morphed into a global trade agreement. After 19 rounds of negotiation, President Obama sought to conclude negotiations and sign the TPP by the end of 2013. To do so he asked Congress to “Fast Track” the TPP—to delegate their authority to the executive branch. Yet by delegating their authority, Congress would limit the primary way that we as citizens have a say on this major trade agreement. The first step we took is by telling our representatives in Congress not to allow this restriction of democracy. We must continue to do this work to strengthen food justice globally.

Trade Justice Work from 2017

CAGJ highlighted the links between trade policies and global food systems:

  • CAGJ participated in a variety of actions, including delivering posters and petitions to legislators and joining anti-TPP protests as part of the movement to defeat the TPP. We kept our membership informed on the substance of the deal, on administration claims and machinations, and on how to build broad awareness and opposition.
  • CAGJ interns joined a rally against the TPP in Tacoma, and delivered a poster to Rep. Kilmer expressing support for food sovereignty.
  • We worked closely with the Washington Fair Trade Coalition to write a Fair Trade vision paper to help guide activists about trade issues. We focused in particular on food justice, but participated in formulating a vision on all issues.
  • We co-drafted a petition with 350 Seattle and WFTC to the WA congressional delegation focused on the TPP’s impact on food systems, and we reached our goal of 500 signers! We delivered the petition to all our Congressional representatives.