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    Suggestions for Reform of USTR Trade Advisory Committees

    Comments Prepared for the Trade Subcommittee
    Committee on Ways and Means
    U.S. House of Representatives

    Hearing on the Trade Advisory Committee System
    July 21, 2009

    Adam Weissman
    National Director
    Global Justice for Animals and the Environment

    Global Justice for Animals and the Environment is a national organization concerned with the impact of international trade policies on the environment and the welfare of wild and domestic animals. Although our organization is not a member of the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Council, we have studied and reported on the affects of trade policy; we are members of the Alliance for Responsible Trade; and we work within Fair Trade and Trade Justice coalitions in three different states. We follow closely TEPAC reports, as well as the testimony of its members at Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee Hearings. Based on our work, we have a number of recommendations for improving transparency and participation in the Advisory Committee system.

    First, we wish to echo the concerns raised by Daniel Magraw of the Center for International Environmental Law. An advisory committee system that is largely ignored by USTR has little value. We offer the ideas below as additional suggestions, but want to emphasize that we strongly believe the issues raised by Mr. Magraw must be addressed as a top priority.

    We have three ideas for improving the existing committees:

    1- Address conflicts of interest among Advisory Council members – In April 2005, Representative Sherrod Brown and 13 other House Democrats requested a Government Accountability Office review of a $500,000 grant given to the Humane Society of the United States to promote free trade – the largest grant the Humane Society received that year. The grant, announced by USTR in an October 3, 2003 news release but disbursed through USAID in 2005, is believed by many to have had a profound affect on the Humane Society's position on free trade. As the Congressmembers' letter to GAO points out, “The Humane Society was a strong opponent of Congressional passage of all major trade legislation over the past decade, including NAFTA, WTO, and China PTNR. However, since receiving the USAID grant, HSUS has taken a position contrary to this historical trend and announced its support for CAFTA," Since 2005, the Humane Society has been alone among humane and environmental organizations in taking generally favorable positions on the environmental language of the Peru and Panama Free Trade Agreements, which they did even before the May 10th Bipartisan Agreement on Trade.

    The apparent violation of lobbying restrictions involved in the Humane Society's relationship with USTR compromises their presence on the TEPAC, diminishing the Council's integrity. As one of only two humane organizations on the TEPAC, the Humane Society utterly fails to fulfill the representative role with which they are endowed and occludes the opportunity for the broader animal protection movement to voice their concerns with free trade.

    USTR must not be allowed to unduly influence the public policy of NGOs with USAID funds, particularly not advisory council members. An independent review process must be established to investigate conflicts of interests among TEPAC members, and USTR must be called to account if findings show that they inappropriately funneled funds to TEPAC members through third party agencies. Members found to have inappropriate financial relationships with USTR must be forced to either return the funds in question or step down from TEPAC membership.

    2- Increase the presence of environmental justice and indigenous rights advocates on TEPAC – In countries like Peru, and Colombia, environmental destruction has adversely affected peasant farmers, Afro-Latino communities, indigenous peoples, and the urban poor. The environmentalist discourse of species conservation marginalizes these groups. TEPAC does not confront the human dimension of environmental problems, and crucial dynamics of race, class, and environment go largely ignored. For example, taking into account the history of President Garcia's relationship with indigenous communities and the Amazon, environmental justice groups like Amazon Watch correctly warned that the May 10th Bipartisan Agreement on Trade would not effectively protect the Peruvian Amazon or Peru's indigenous communities. The inclusion of environmental justice groups in the consultative process along with more traditional conservationist-style environmentalists could have prevented Peru's tragic June 2009 Bagua Massacre, and could prevent similar, future tragedies.

    3-Reform the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee (APAC) – While an advisory committee currently exists on agriculture, it represents only industry groups and large corporations. International trade policy deals with a wide range of food-related issues, including food safety, family farm preservation, animal welfare, sustainable production, nutrition, immigration, and farm workers' rights. APAC should represent a more diverse collection of groups that address the gamut of agricultural concerns. We recommend expanding the APAC into a Food and Agriculture Policy Advisory Committee deriving at least 50% of its membership from representatives of civil society groups concerned with the issues addressed above rather than solely industry groups and corporate representation. Alternatively, the current APAC could be redefined as a seventeenth Industry Trade Advisory Committee and a new Food and Agriculture Policy Committee could be constituted to address the diverse range of aforementioned concerns.

    Additionally, we believe US trade policy would benefit from the creation of separate councils addressing three additional areas:

    1- Trade and Animal Welfare Advisory Council. Over the last two decades, animal welfare concerns have fallen among the issues most heavily affected by trade agreements. Our organization realizes the intertwined nature of animal and environmental protection, and we have concluded that organizations representing animal protection, specifically the protection of domestic animals, lack important representation in the TEPAC. The animal protection and conservation movements have distinct goals and constituencies: whereas the conservation movement focuses on species conservation and habitat protection, the animal protection movement focuses on the the welfare of individual animals. In addition to the species conservation and habit concerns addressed in TEPAC concerns, animal protection groups consider a range of other issues relating to US trade policy – liberalization of agriculture and the expansion of inhumane farming practices, trade in fighting animals, trade in wildlife for zoos, aquariums, marine mammal parks, and the pet trade, USTR opposition to the EU wild fur ban, among others.

    2- Trade with Latin America Advisory Council. Of the 17 countries with which the United States has signed free trade agreements, nine are in Latin America, and two more FTAs with Latin American nations have been negotiated by the Bush administration and await the Congressional vote. The most controversial of all FTAs are those with Latin American countries. NAFTA, DR-CAFTA, and the Peru, Panama, and Colombia FTAs are especially contentious. By contrast, the US has a free trade agreement with only one African nation: Morocco. That USTR has an Africa Advisory committee but does not have one for Latin America reveals a critical imbalance. A wide range of civil society organizations in the US have expertise in Latin American affairs. Including their expert knowledge in the crafting of future trade policy would go a long way in avoiding the kind of unrest and resentment that US free trade policy generates in Latin America and domestically.

    3- Trade and Democracy Advisory Council. The US should not enter into trade agreements with undemocratic regimes, nor should it use deception to manipulate the democratic process of other nations in order to force them to enter free trade agreements with the US. The last several years have seen examples of both. The Oman FTA generated strong civil society opposition in 2006 from groups disturbed by the precedent set by the US's entrance into a trade agreement with an absolute monarchy that has criminalized trade unions. In 2007, Ambassador Schwab and the State Department engaged in a campaign of intimidation to influence the outcome of the Costa Rican referendum on DR-CAFTA. Costa Ricans were told that Costa Rica's Caribbean Basin Initiative trade preferences would be pulled if Costa Rica did not join DR-CAFTA, despite statements by the Congressional majority to the contrary. A vote-buying campaign and a one-sided media blackout that prevented the “NO” side from communicating its message also influenced the Costa Rican referendum. Most shockingly, evidence surfaced in September 2007 of secret payoffs given to President Arias prior to his election, intended to garner his support DR-CAFTA. A Committee on Trade and Democracy that fulfills a special oversight role could help to ensure that the US will only enter into trade agreements with democracies, and undemocratic tactics will not be used to pass unpopular trade agreements .

    Global Justice for Animals and the Environment would like to thank Chairman Levin and the Subcommittee for addressing trade related issues. We hope this hearing will begin a much needed process of reform in the Advisory Committee system. Our organization welcomes questions on our comments or any other related matters.

    Global Justice for Animals and the Environment is a project of:
    Wetlands Activism Collective
    Phone: (718) 218-4523
    Fax: (501) 633-34761
    activism @ wetlands-preserve.org