Trade Agreements and Their Threat to Critters Everywhere

by Lori Wallach
Public Citizen Global Trade Watch Director

Free trade policies favor agribusiness corporations that own large factory farms around the word. In these confinement systems, pigs are often restricted in cramped crates.

The infamous 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Seattle, during which the world watched "turtles and teamsters" marching in protest together, highlighted the direct hit that animal welfare and wildlife conversation policies take from free "trade" policies. Over the years, the agriculture rules found in the WTO, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and now the more recent Central American Free Trade agreement (CAFTA) have promoted the intensification and spread worldwide of the factory farm model.

Communities seeking to counter the brutal factory farm system, with its documented abuse of animals in massive consolidated livestock operations, its wipeout of small farmers and its consolidation of livestock production, are finding the laws they pass locally are being attacked as trade illegal—even though they apply to local, domestic conduct rather than trade in anything. Indeed, WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA and the entire alphabet soup of "trade" agreements that deliver the corporate globalization system explicitly forbid the consideration of the processes of how animals are raised or how fish are harvested. Under these pacts, "process and production" standards, such as animal welfare laws or sustainable fishing rules, are dubbed "illegal discrimination," even through they treat domestic and foreign products the same.

Protesting the greed-driven free trade policies that may destroy their livelihood, independent Korean farmers drop to their knees on the streets of Hong Kong outside of the December 2005 WTO Ministerial Conference. Some activists experienced trouble with local police, and over a dozen Korean farmers were put in jail during the conference.

If this isn't troubling enough, recently passed trade agreements like CAFTA, a six-nation expansion of NAFTA to Costa Rica, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, will make the situation worse. CAFTA's service sector rules gave away countries' control over marine exclusive boundaries—meaning Central American countries' laws limiting off-shore drilling and factory shop fishing in territorial waters are illegal under the agreement, except in Costa Rica, which took an exception. Moreover, under CAFTA, laws limiting or forbidding beachfront development are illegal, and the rise of hotels and tourism is likely to devastate remaining marine habitats. The agreement even excludes the very limited clause under NAFTA that gave precedence to certain Multilateral Environmental Agreements, including the vital Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, when there is a conflict.

Unfortunately, since the landmark Public Citizen litigation in the early 1990s that allowed environmental and animal welfare groups to be included in the official US trade advisory system, the sorts of provisions being included in these "trade" agreements have only become more anti-animal and anti-habitat. How can we change this race to the bottom? Only by more intense campaigning to increase the accountability of US trade policymakers in Congress and the Administration.

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