The Debates: Questions for the Presidential Candidates on Trade and Agriculture Policy

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The Debates: Questions for the Presidential Candidates on Trade and Agriculture Policy

A question for both candidates from IATP:  "How would you rethink trade policy to address climate change?" (Photos: BU Rob13/Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

The 2016 election is bizarre, to say the least. While the vast majority of reporting has focused on the horserace and he said she said aspects of the campaigns, the policy proposals put forward by the candidates will have profound and lasting impacts on the citizens they seek to govern. As a recent article in The Atlantic notes, “Once in office, presidents almost always try to carry out their pre-election agendas. When they’re unable to keep those promises, it’s usually because of congressional opposition—not because they’ve discarded campaign rhetoric to pursue other goals.”

With an increasingly globalized food system, trade and agricultural policies have become integral to combating climate change, providing economic security, and ensuring public health. These policies affect our jobs, the food we eat, and the land we live on. The trade and agricultural agenda set by the United States will affect billions of people around the globe. As the presidential debate season begins on Monday, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will be watching closely to see if and how the candidates address the following questions:


  • Both of you have stated your opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which IATP also opposes. The U.S. approach to trade negotiations is broken for both for U.S. residents and those we trade with around the world. As long as access to the negotiations is reserved for the rich and powerful, there will never be a trade agreement that works for the majority of the people in the countries at the table. How will your administration democratize the negotiating process—allowing direct negotiating input from civil society—to develop a framework for creating trade agreements that empower communities around the world to improve their quality of life?
  • A recent report by IATP found that past and pending trade agreements directly undermine the U.S.’s efforts to mitigate climate change through the Paris Climate Agreement. In the 5,000 pages of the Trans-Pacific Partnership text, climate change is not mentioned once. What will your administration do to ensure that trade policy does not conflict with other global priorities? Specifically, how would you rethink trade policy to address climate change?
  • Agricultural export dumping  is one way corporate interests have gained through trade policy, at the expense of the public interest. This means selling products abroad at prices below the cost of production, transportation and logistical handling which drives out local producers. Dumping has led to the internal displacement or migration of tens of millions of workers and farmers around the world, e.g. ex-farmers migrating to the United States from Mexico and Central America. What would your administration do to stop dumping by U.S. and foreign corporations?
  • A second specific way corporate interests gain circumventing the public good is through private trade tribunals that can overturn democratically enacted laws. If a corporation believes that  a regulation reduces the value of a vaguely defined “investment,” they can bring a suit either through their country at the World Trade Organization (WTO) or directly through the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions in individual trade agreements. This corporate privilege has led to the erosion of consumer safety, environmental protection and jobs programs in the United States and abroad. What would your administration do to protect local governments’ ability to regulate, free from global corporate interference?
  • Another recent IATP report found that the pending Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would deregulate the meat industry, potentially enabling a public health crisis from consuming unsafe meat. Additionally, the WTO recently ruled that labeling the country of origin on meat packaging was a barrier to trade, essentially banning knowledge of where the meat we eat is produced. How will your administration use trade policy to protect public health, not just from unsafe meat, but from the myriad of other products that have been and will be deregulated under the current approach to trade policy?


  • Farmers are being forced into non-farm jobs and off their land because commodity prices are currently below the cost of production. In the dairy industry alone, prices have decreased by 55 percentin the last two years and half of all dairy farms have been lost since 2000. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, low prices are likely to continue for the next 10 years without significant policy change. While low prices are good for agribusiness profits, they are devastating for family farmers and rural communities. What would your administration do to boost commodity prices for American farmers and to help reduce their production costs?
  • The response of U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a Bloomberg interview last week, to a recent agribusiness mergers was “This is the world we live in” and that small seed companies will spur the mega-big ag companies to innovate and provide farmers with more input choices.  Monsanto predicted that its merger plans would succeed because “there’s no history of conglomerate merger enforcement in the U.S. in the last 40 years.” (The “White Paper” source has since been withdrawn from Monsanto’s website.) Farmers, including the National Farmers Union, have lobbied Congress to oppose the mergers because of past and anticipated increases in their seed and agricultural chemical costs from mergers. How would your administration begin to enforce the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Packer and Stockyards Act and other laws to prevent the anti-competitive business practices, such as price-fixing in the dairy and fertilizer industries, which have resulted from agribusiness mergers and acquisitions?  
  • Farmers could take an active role in not only mitigating climate change, but making their operations more resilient in the face of extreme weather events by adopting sustainable and agro-ecological practices, such as farm wide use of cover crops. Yet, the current system of crop insurance incentivizes large-scale, mono-cropping, resource intensive farming practices. What would your administration do to change the federal crop insurance subsidy incentives towards sustainable agricultural practices?
  • America’s farm population is aging.  We need a new generation of farmers, not more farmers being displaced by policies to favor capital and technology intensive farming. Surveys show that more and more young people are interested in farming. However, despite efforts to improve funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program and alleviate the student debt of would be farmers and ranchers, the biggest barriers to entry into farming and ranching are the costs of renting land and farm machinery. What will your administration do to enable young farmers access to the land and equipment they need to begin their farming careers?
  • Farm to institution programs give children, the elderly and many other populations access to healthy, nutritionally balanced foods that are grown locally. These programs strengthen local economies while promoting environmental sustainability. The federal government has broad powers to incentivize other government units to participate in procuring local foods for government, schools, hospitals, the military and other public cafeteria settings, as well as within private institutions that receive government funding. What would your administration do to promote farm to institution programs and local food procurement agreements at the sub-federal level?
  • The Obama Administration announced this week that it would leave nearly intact the 1992 White Policy on agricultural biotechnology, finalized by the Competitiveness Council. An interagency strategy for the regulation of 21st century biotechnology would clarify the roles of the USDA, FDA and EPA in reviewing voluntarily submitted product developer applications to deregulate their products, according to information and studies submitted by the developer, many of them classified as Confidential Business Information and therefore unavailable for peer scientific review. What would your administration do to increase the scientific integrity and transparency of pre-market safety assessment of the products of 21st century techniques of genetic engineering? President Obama recently signed a law that would enable consumers to find out whether what they are buying contains Genetically Modified Organisms, provided that they had a smartphone to scan a “labeling” code. What would your administration do to enable consumers to find out what is in the food they are buying as they are buying it, particularly if they don’t have a smartphone?
  • Global agribusiness and their hedge fund partners are distorting the price of agricultural commodities on U.S. and foreignmarkets by manipulating commodity futures contracts, e.g. the Kraft Foods/Mondelez manipulation of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange wheat contract. Since the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act to reform and regulate financial institutions—instruments and practices that triggered the Great Recession—Wall Street, big ag and their congressional allies have worked tirelessly to reduce the budget and authority of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to implement and enforce these reforms. According to the World Federation of Exchanges, in 2015 commodity contracts became the most frequently traded contract class in the world. What would your administration do to enforce Dodd-Frank to prevent commodity market manipulation and excessive speculation, including that resulting from High Frequency Trading?
  • Rural communities will be disproportionately impacted by climate change. Their economies are often tied to natural resources (agriculture, forestry, mining), leaving them directly affected by solutions and policies that increase energy or transportation costs. At the same time, rural areas are integral in creating a climate-friendly economy through energy and food production and natural resource management. This means that rural communities will bear the brunt of climate impacts, but will also be responsible for much of the nation’s adaptation and mitigation efforts. How would your administration ensure that climate change is addressed in a way that’s inclusive of rural concerns?

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems.

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