Mainers say new trade deal will hurt local farms, food safety
Belfast — Legislators, businessmen, fisherman and agriculture experts recently met in Belfast to speak at a rare public hearing on an international trade deal currently under negotiations between the United States and more than a dozen asia-pacific countries.
The public hearing, held by the Citizen Trade Policy Commission (CTPC) at the UMaine Hutchinson Center, garnered more than a dozen speakers who all testified against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. What is contained in the TPP is still secret as the member countries are still in negotiations, though some documents have leaked online.
Several of the speakers cited the secrecy of the negotiations as well as the possible effect on local farming as reason for their opposition. Many of the speakers likened the TPP to the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) saying it will cost jobs and not protect the food supply.
"The U.S. government is negotiating two sweeping trade agreements that, if completed as envisioned, will bind most of the countries in the world as well as US state and local governments," CTPC Chair Rep. Sharon Anglin Treat stated prior to the public hearing. "These agreements extend well beyond traditional trade topics and have implications for our policies on food safety, labeling of products, public health and much more."
Maine Farmland Trust Executive Director John Piotti testified at the public hearing, specifically about the effect on Maine’s dairy farms. Piotti explained how the federal government's formula for determining what a milk producer should be paid could be disrupted by free trade from New Zealand, which has a heavily subsidized dairy industry.
Rock Alley of Jonesport, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Union, spoke in opposition to the deal. Alley said the TPP could allow for seafood below the safety standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enter the U.S. markets, which he said would undermine the lobster industry.
Furthermore Alley questions a rumored provision of the TPP that would ban the promotion of locally sourced food. Alley said it was critical for Maine to promote lobsters caught here as "Maine lobster."
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows testified about the Obama administration's intent to fast-track the trade deal, speeding it through congress for adoption.
"Congress should reject fast-track trade authorization of the TPP and should hold full and fair public hearings about the TPP to address the serious concerns already raised here in Maine and across the country," Bellows said. "International trade is important to Maine's economy, but international trade agreements must be fair trade agreements — protecting workers' rights at home and abroad, protecting the environment for future generations and consumer safety. A trade agreement that reflects these values is good for the global economy and for human rights."
In June, the Maine House and Senate unanimously approved a resolution drafted by the CTPC urging the federal government to reject the practice of fast-tracking the approval of international trade agreements negotiated in secret.
Several Waldo County residents also spoke at the public hearing in opposition to the TPP. Hiedi Brugger of Freedom commented on the trade agreement's secrecy saying, "No wonder it is secret, everything we've heard so far sounds awful." While Diane Messler of Liberty painted a grim picture of Maine's future under the TPP saying, "We're talking about eviscerating our health and our food."
While the CTPC does not have direct input on the trade agreement it does communicate with the Maine legislative delegation in Washington to relay citizen's concerns about different trade deals. During the meeting Matt McKenzie, an aide to Rep. Chellie Pingree, called in and answered questions from the commission.
McKenzie assured the commission that when the trade agreement comes before the House of Representatives Pingree would keep the concerns of the public in mind.