Miriam Ross is a campaigner at the World Development Movement

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Miriam Ross is a campaigner at the World Development Movement

TTIP is an affront to democracy

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US agribusiness wants Europe to drop its ban on chlorine-washed chicken. Peter Cooper under a Creative Commons Licence

Prime minister David Cameron loves to portray himself as the defender of British sovereignty in his dealings with the EU. But as the volume of his anti-EU posturing increases, he is busy pushing for a deal that will hand the sovereignty of his country, and others, to multinational companies.

The next round of negotiations on the EU-US trade deal (also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP) begin in Brussels on Tuesday 15 July. Talks started last July, and proponents of the deal seem to have hoped to rush it through with as little scrutiny as possible. They have been disappointed, as opposition to the deal has risen rapidly in both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US, trade unions and Democrat congressmen and women have prevented President Obama from fast-tracking the deal. Campaigners in Germany forced the European Commission to open a public consultation on one of the most controversial proposals in the deal – a plan to set up corporate tribunals with the power to override the decisions of elected governments. Some 100,000 people responded to the consultation – the highest number ever recorded. And Belgian MEPs were among dozens of campaigners arrested for protesting against the deal ahead of the European elections.

On Saturday 12 July, towns and cities across Britain will see health campaigners, environmentalists, anti-poverty groups and trade unionists protesting under ‘No TTIP’ banners.

As the diverse array of people lining up to oppose it suggests, the TTIP deal would affect many different aspects of life. But the common thread connecting objections to the deal is this: if agreed, TTIP would greatly diminish the ability of governments to make decisions for the benefit of their citizens. Democracy itself is under threat.

The part of the deal that has most enraged critics is a plan to set up supra-national corporate courts, in which companies can sue governments over decisions they think might affect their profits – even where governments have clearly acted in the public interest. This may sound like the stuff of fiction, unthinkable to anyone with any faith the democratic progress. In fact, it’s already happening.

Under similar parallel legal systems, tobacco giant Philip Morris is currently suing both the Australian and the Uruguayan governments for, respectively, introducing plain packaging for cigarettes, and daring to print health warnings on packaging. Veolia, the multinational waste and energy company, sued Egypt for introducing the minimum wage. And Argentina was sued for freezing energy prices to protect consumers hit by the country’s financial collapse.

In Britain, campaigners fighting to defend the cherished National Health Service fear that if a future government tried to renationalize the parts of the service that have already been privatized, it would be sued. And the need for companies to even use these courts could melt away – fear of being hit for billions of dollars could prevent governments from implementing policies that might raise the ire of the boardrooms. As well as preventing governments from acting in the public interest in the future, the TTIP deal would also sweep away years of hard-won regulations designed to protect people and the environment. One of the key issues on the table in the Brussels talks will be food standards, which are generally set much higher in Europe than in the United States. US agribusiness wants Europe to drop its ban on hormone-treated beef and pork and chlorine-washed chicken, and the American companies that sell these products have US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on side.

Financial regulation is another major battleground. Following the financial crisis, the US introduced an inadequate smattering of controls on its finance sector in an attempt to prevent another collapse. But the big banks see even this weak regulation as unacceptable, and are pushing for TTIP to knock it on the head.

Over the past few years, more and more of us have started to see our governments as acting in the interests of the rich and powerful. The EU-US trade deal could be seen as something of a test case. If we are to drag governments back to our sides, to be accountable to the people they were elected to represent, the battle to stop the TTIP deal is one we have to win.

Miriam Ross is a campaigner at the World Development Movement.

To join the protests taking place across Britain on 12 July visit nottip.org.uk.

Read New Internationalist’s guide to the two monster US-led trade deals – the TPP and the TTIP.

British aid is helping agribusiness carve up Africa

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Shifting to production for export means relying on imported food, leaving people vulnerable to sudden price spikes. Food 'aid' is often the result. Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) under a Creative Commons Licence

Anxious to avoid the wrath of the anti-aid lobby, the British government has kept pretty quiet about finally meeting the target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income on international aid. Just as quietly, it is channelling millions of dollars of that aid money into a scheme to help the world’s most powerful agribusinesses carve up Africa.

A billion dollars in British aid money is going to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a G8 scheme that directs government aid, and corporate ‘investment’ from companies like Unilever and Monsanto, to the 10 African countries that have so far signed up. In return, the African governments have to make life easier – and more profitable – for the companies involved.

Take a look at the kinds of changes that the African governments are being told to make, and it becomes clear that the New Alliance scheme has little to do with food security or nutrition, and everything to do with increasing the hold of global agribusiness companies over African land, agriculture and food.

Under the scheme, for example, Tanzania has committed not to restrict exports of food, even when the food being exported is needed by its own population. It seems the food security of Tanzanians is secondary to the security of export businesses.

Agriculture for export, rather than to feed local people, is central to the scheme, as is the concept of ‘agricultural growth corridors’, initiated by the global agrochemical company Yara. Several of these corridors are already under development, with the intention of connecting agricultural land to coastal ports so that companies can easily transport produce to foreign marketplaces.

A spokesperson for the Beira corridor in Mozambique told the Guardian newspaper, ‘We will emphasize cash crops… we want a smallholder agriculture sector that is interested in making money. We are not interested in the social angle.’

Feeding people, presumably, is a ‘social angle’. Shifting to production for export means relying on imported food, leaving people vulnerable to sudden price spikes. During the 2008 food crisis, when global grain prices soared, millions of people were suddenly unable to buy enough food.

Agricultural growth corridors also illustrate another objective of the New Alliance: to help transnational companies get access to land. The corridors are supposed to make ‘under-utilized’ land more productive, but in practice, land designated as under-utilized is often very much in use, by people who stand to lose both land and livelihoods when the companies move in.

The G8 scheme requires the African countries that have joined to change their laws on land. Ethiopia, for example, will allow investors fast-track access to land. Ethiopia is a target for the land-grabbing that has already resulted in as much as 63 million hectares of land being sold or leased in Africa since 2008.

As well as increasing their control of what comes out of African agriculture in exports, agribusiness companies want more power over what goes in. Seed companies Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont want to sell more seeds to African farmers, most of whom currently save and use their own seeds for free. Pesticide and fertilizer companies also see an untapped market for their products, despite the dangers agrochemicals pose for small-scale farmers in terms of their health, local environment and risk of indebtedness. The African countries in the New Alliance are changing their laws to help companies sell their products to farmers – Mozambique, for instance, has promised to stop distributing local seed varieties.

The reforms the participating countries are being required to make read like a wish-list by transnational agribusiness, and in reality this is exactly what they are. The initiative’s backers claim it will tackle hunger, but there is nothing to show how this will happen. The assumption appears to be that growth in GDP though the activities of the corporations will do the job, but raising GDP on its own has little impact on poverty.

Instead, by taking power away from the small-scale food producers who feed most of Africa’s people, and concentrating it the hands of big business, this new scramble for Africa is likely to make poverty and inequality worse.

The World Development Movement’s new campaign calls on the British government to pull out of the New Alliance scheme, and instead use aid money to strengthen the hand of small-scale producers, helping them keep control of their land and resources, and to prioritize food for people rather than for profit.

Miriam Ross is a campaigner at the World Development Movement. www.wdm.org.uk

Read our issue on Land grabs including Hazel Healy's article: 'The smallholders' last stand'.

EU takes historic step to stop banks betting on hunger

stock market figures

AndreasPoike under a Creative Commons Licence

European Union (EU) negotiators agreed last night to introduce regulation to prevent speculation by banks and hedge funds driving up food prices and exacerbating the global hunger crisis. The new controls will place a limit on the number of food contracts that banks and other finance companies can hold, and will force traders to open their activity to greater public scrutiny.

Anti-poverty campaign group the World Development Movement has hailed the decision as a historic step forward, but said that the British government’s opposition to tough controls has resulted in serious loopholes in the regulation. In particular, limits will be set at national rather than EU level, which campaigners say risks a regulatory ‘race to the bottom’ as countries could compete to set weaker limits.

The group is urging the European regulator ESMA to ensure that the new rules are implemented effectively, and not watered down further by industry lobbying.

Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley together made an estimated $3.6 billion between 2010 and 2012 from speculating on food including wheat, maize and soy. Speculation increases price volatility and has been a major factor in the sharp spikes in global food prices of the last six years.

‘Public outrage over food speculation has been huge and the fact that the EU has listened to that anger is a victory for public pressure,’ says Nick Dearden, the director of the World Development Movement. ‘But the UK’s role in watering down the regulation has been a disgrace. The Treasury has put the profits of banks like Goldman Sachs above the basic human need for food, with the result that the new rules could be too weak to be effective. Yesterday’s agreement is a good step forward, but now we need to make sure the limits are set at a level that properly tackles excessive speculation.’

The new rules on food speculation are part of a major piece of European financial reform, the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID). Once it has been officially approved by MEPs and EU finance ministers, it must be incorporated into national legislation in each of the 28 EU member states.

Miriam Ross is Media Officer for the World Development Movement.

For more on food speculation, read issue 447 of New Internationalist.

Bringing Colombian coal mining back home to London


The Cerrejón mine in Colombia is the biggest coal mine in Latin America. Since the 1970s, the project has eaten up several villages, displacing indigenous Wayúu and Afro-Colombian people while destroying a vast area of dry tropical forest.

Like so many dirty coal, oil and gas projects around the world, Cerrejón receives much of its life blood – finance – from the City of London: the mine is jointly owned by London-listed multinationals Anglo-American, BHP Billiton and Xstrata.

Colombian campaigner Tatiana Roa Avendaño came to London recently to call for support for local people and miners who are struggling to stop the expansion of the mine and demanding better conditions for people who live and work in the area.

‘Cerrejón is presented by the Colombian government as being an example of responsible mining. But it has been as disaster,’ she told the World Development Movement.

Cerrejón mine
The Cerrejón site in Colombia Tanenhaus, under a CC License

‘The mine is on indigenous territory and Afro-Colombian territory. In Colombia indigenous communities and black people have rights recognized in our constitution. But Cerrejón never consulted these people about this project and never respected their rights. They were thrown off their lands. People received no compensation, and disappeared to the cities and towns.’

Those who stayed face a much changed homeland: ‘Most of the territory has been destroyed by pollution,’ said Avendaño. ‘The soil is polluted, so people can’t grow crops. They had the traditional life of indigenous people. They moved their goats during different seasons, between north and south. So when the mining started, it destroyed this relationship between the people in north and the south of the area.

‘People have become ill, and their lives are very difficult because the local economy was destroyed, so now they all depend on the mining.

‘The other big problem is the conditions for the workers. The miners went on strike for a month in February and March because of bad pay and health. They have more than 700 people sick with back problems and respiratory illnesses.

‘The local communities support the miners because the union has opposed the plans to expand the mine. The Cerrejón company wants to move a very important local river: La Rancheria. They want to divert it by 26 kilometres so that they can exploit the river bed. The union doesn’t agree with this. So the miners decided to support the local communities against the expansion of the mine.

‘The Rancheria is the only river that actually crosses the whole of La Guajira region. So if this river was diverted, it would put not only the local communities but also the whole population of the area at risk.

‘We have a great opportunity to work together to show what has happened at Cerrejón, to stop the expansion of this mine and to change this destructive model in our country. Because, as I said, the government wants to use this mine as an example for our country.’

Anglo-American’s AGM is on 19 April in London, and Julio Gomez from Colombia will be attending to speak for the communities affected by Cerrejón. He will be joined by Peter Bailey from the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa, and by campaigners from the World Development Movement and the London Mining Network.

Londoners can also hear Julio’s story on 15 April at Amnesty UK, where he will speak alongside people affected by Anglo-American and Rio Tinto’s mines around the world.

Angry Santa interrupts AGM over Phulbari mine


Tens of thousands joined a 7-day and 250-mile march in Bangladesh, 2010. Photo: Anha F. Khan

British coal mining company GCM Resources may have hoped that scheduling its London AGM for 20 December, just before Christmas, would allow the event to pass under the public radar.

Instead, Chair Gerard Holden found his stage invaded by Santa Claus, who presented him with a Christmas stocking and the words, ‘Ho, ho, ho, have you been naughty or nice this year? St Nick always knows – your stocking’s full of coal!’

A stocking filled with coal in place of gifts is a (usually only threatened) punishment for very bad behaviour. The behaviour that won Santa’s disapproval in this case was GCM’s plan to establish an open-pit coal mine in Phulbari in northwest Bangladesh, which threatens to displace up to 220,000 people.

The project has been on hold since 2006 due to opposition from the people who stand to lose their homes, their land and their livelihoods. In August that year, three people were killed and many more injured when Bangladeshi troops opened fire on protests against the mine. Prominent investors, including Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Asian Development Bank eventually withdrew their financial support for the project.

But this year, GCM has renewed its efforts to get the go-ahead to mine in Phulbari. Last month, the Bangladeshi government told the local authorities to co-operate with the company’s exploration work in the area, and slapped a ban on gatherings of more than five people.

In response, local people called a two-day strike, and have promised further protests unless GCM and open-pit coal mining are both banned from the country by the end of December.

As well as devastating the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people whose land would be taken or polluted, the mine would destroy a huge area of agricultural land, and could pollute the Sundarban Reserve Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Seven top United Nations human rights experts have called for an immediate halt to the project on the grounds that it could lead to the violation of fundamental human rights.

‘The Phulbari development would displace vulnerable farming communities, and threaten the livelihoods of thousands more by doing irreversible damage to water sources and ecosystems in the region,’ the UN officials said in a statement earlier this year.

Following pressure from Bangladeshi campaigners and the World Development Movement, the British government publicly distanced itself from the Phulbari coal project in 2008. But emails obtained by the London Mining Network through Freedom of Information requests reveal more recent attempts by the government to avoid disclosing the nature of its relationship with GCM. Information requested by the group was refused on the basis that it would ‘prejudice the UK government’s international relations with the Bangladesh government’.

British MP John McDonnell, speaking in parliament in November, labelled GCM’s proposed mine as ‘destructive’, ‘outrageous’ and ‘shocking’. He condemned the government’s refusal to provide information on its relationship with GCM, saying: ‘In other words, the government would be ashamed of the support they have given this company if it came to light.’

The US-based International Accountability Project and the World Development Movement have this week submitted a complaint about the mine to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD provides a set of basic standards for corporate behaviour. If the complaint is upheld, it would deal a blow to GCM’s plans.

The British government’s stance – and GCM’s London listing – invite renewed pressure from campaigners in Britain, while international solidarity can only strengthen the movement against the mine in Phulbari.

For details of international campaigns, see the International Accountability Project and Cultural Survival in the US.

Barclays’ ‘A-MAIZING returns’


Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein from The Revolution Will Be Televised take on Barclays.

‘We make money from inflation, stagnation, and even starvation,’ says the brash young banker outside a branch of Barclays bank in the City of London.

‘Yes,’ agrees the Barclays branch worker, although she seems unsure about the posters he’s sticking up in the window. ‘Have THEIR cake and eat it,’ reads one. The other depicts a golden sheaf of maize and advertises ‘A-MAIZING returns’.

The banker stops passers-by, extolling the benefits of brand-new food investment products. The investments could force people to go hungry, but, the banker and his colleagues assure them, ‘those people are in a place you’re never going to go to.’

The banker is an actor, and the unsuspecting members of the public are suitably outraged by the idea of making money at the expense of starving people. But the World Development Movement’s new video, made with the pranksters from the BBC TV show The Revolution Will Be Televised, parodies the real-life impact Barclays has on food prices and hunger.

It has been estimated that the bank made up to $800 million from speculating on food prices in 2010 and 2011, helping to fuel sharp spikes in price that pushed basic foods like maize and wheat beyond the reach of millions of people.

Financial speculation by banks and hedge funds now dominates food commodity markets, sending food prices swinging wildly, often in a steep upwards direction. And it amplifies the effects of more tangible factors like extreme weather, and the world’s increasing tendency to put food in the tanks of cars.

In Britain, the average household’s annual grocery bill was £152 ($243) higher in 2011 than in 2010. But in the Global South, where people in poverty often spend up to 90 per cent of their incomes on food, sudden price hikes cause acute hardship. They also cause social unrest, with rising prices widely acknowledged as one of the sparks of the Arab Spring in early 2011.

Barclays has taken a public battering for speculating on food, among other well-reported misdemeanours. In January it won a Public Eye Award for being the ‘world’s worst company’, and its last two annual general meetings have been marred by protesters in blue ‘evil eagle’ masks parodying the bank’s logo. The bank seems unconcerned, like most of the finance sector – preoccupied, perhaps, by efforts to keep the politicians on side. Barclays alone had 15 meetings with British Treasury ministers within a year of the current coalition government coming to power.

The banks know that the days of unfettered speculation may be numbered, as public pressure has forced regulators to examine their activities. The US was the first to pass legislation to curb speculation, though its implementation has been delayed by a legal challenge from Wall Street.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union is formulating new rules to tackle speculation, the strength of which will depend on political decisions made in the coming weeks and months. Crucially, British Chancellor George Osborne and the other European finance ministers are due to vote on the proposed rules. So far, the British government has failed to back tough regulation, and the video ends by asking viewers to email Osborne demanding action.

The decision Osborne and his counterparts make could prevent speculation driving millions of people into hunger and poverty – but only if they are brave enough to resist pressure from banks like Barclays. Their decision surely depends on whether people like those filmed on the London street, who were outraged by the idea of gambling on hunger, can make their voices loud enough.

Miriam Ross is a campaigner at the World Development Movement.

For more background on food speculation check out November 2011’s New Internationalist: ‘Banking on hunger.’