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Organic Consumers Association

Fair Trade More Important Than Free Trade

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The guest opinion by Rep. Ron Kind in the March 13 issue of The Country Today ("Wisconsin farmers deserve access to global markets," Page 6A) deserves a response. Kind quotes statistics by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection that Wisconsin is the No. 1 producer of cheese in the U.S. and No. 2 in the nation for cheese exports. He lamented the fact that even though we have trade agreements with Canada and Russia "the threat of non-tariff trade barriers, such as non-science based sanitary and phytosanitary issues and protectionist actions, are very real."

What Kind neglected to say is that Wisconsin is also No. 1 in the U.S. when it comes to antibiotic, hormonal and other drug residues in our exported dairy and meat products. These drug residues are far above the allowable "safe" limits for human consumption not only in Canada and Russia, but also the European Union, Japan, South Korea and many other countries. But when our partners refuse to budge on these completely justified "non-tariff trade barriers" the U.S. threatens them with World Trade Organization sanctions.

Kind's support of unsafe food exports through the likes of the Trans Pacific Partnership and the U.S.-E.U. Trade Agreement will not only destroy the farmers in these countries but also their economies. These forced trade policies are unethical and immoral and are no way to make friends around the globe.

Kind should remember that these free-trade deals will hurt U.S. farmers and consumers too because the subsidized dumping by corporate agribusiness goes both ways. For instance, the U.S. has been a dairy deficit nation for more than a dozen years now - in fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture we now have more than 265 tariff categories just for dairy imports.

One of these questionable imports now flooding the U.S. is milk protein concentrate. MPCs are a major component in the production of glue and undergo no Food and Drug Administration food-safety testing. In 2012 alone the U.S. imported more than 240 million pounds of MPC and casein, much of it from New Zealand through its dairy giant, Fonterra. WTO-style trade deals like the TPP force countries to export and import such products no matter what their domestic needs. Unnecessary shipment of these food items also requires enormous amounts of fossil fuels that add to our foreign oil dependency and worsen climate change.

There are winners and losers in all of these so-called free-trade agreements. The winners are the 1 percent of the wealthy at the top, the losers are the rest of us. Why would anyone expect anything but a race to the bottom in farmgate prices, workers' wages and environmental standards by implementing the TPP? We need only to look at what happened in the years following passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement when the U.S. dumped subsidized corn below Mexican farmers' cost of production. Two million Mexican farmers were forced to leave their families and their land to risk their lives migrating to the U.S. in hopes of finding work. In the U.S. thousands of farmers, workers and small business people were personally devalued as they lost their livelihoods in the race to the bottom triggered by NAFTA.   


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