Could the TTIP deal undo development gains?

Barbara Crowther, The Guardian
24 marzo 2015

UN secretary general Ban-ki Moon has clearly stated his ambition for the sustainable development goals to be the most inclusive global development process ever, saying: "Development, after all, is about people. Their aspirations and ambitions must shape our policies and goals. I am determined to make sure that what a farmer says in Tanzania... will be heard at UN headquarters."

Yet in Jamaica, for 32-year-old sugar cane farmer and mother of four, Alexia Ludford, that promise (and with it the designation of 2015 as a European Year for Sustainable Development) is currently ringing rather hollow.

Ludford overcame traditional gender barriers to become the project manager for her cooperative and led the shift away from use of the toxic chemical paraquat. Farmers like Ludford have worked hard to increase the productivity, efficiency and have moved from being beneficiaries of aid to local entrepreneurs, funding their own community education and health programmes. It’s exactly the kind of transformation Ban-ki Moon would want to hear about.

With goals to promote sustainable agriculture, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all, the SDGs could pave the way for more lives to be changed as Ludford’s has. But a business-as-usual approach to trade liberalisation is currently threatening to push an estimated 200,000 small-scale sugarcane growers from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific further into poverty.

A European Union quota that caps sugar beet production and allows poor farmers to compete is set to end in 2017. Not only do EU farmers receive subsidies that disadvantage farmers from developing countries but a study by the Overseas Development Institute found that if the abolition of the sugar beet cap is accompanied by a global drop in sugar prices, up to 6.4 million people could be pushed into poverty by 2020.

How can we hope to attain ambitious and inclusive sustainable development goals while negotiations such as the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are taking place behind closed doors and are feared to be anything but sustainable and pro-development?

With TTIP not only has there been no consultation with farmers, even elected members of the European Parliament only won sight of negotiating texts after huge pressure, and then only in a special ‘reading room’. Contrary to assurances that partnership’s effect on developing countries would be minimal, other assessments suggest potentially severe impact. One study of the potential impact on 43 low- income countries found that they would all face significant losses. As the top exporters to the EU and US, particularly in textiles, clothing, footwear, fish products and bananas, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Ghana are looking particularly vulnerable, whilst a 6.4% loss of GDP was forecast for Côte d’Ivoire. And yet the juggernaut of these negotiations rolls on, with no sustainability assessment.

It’s no surprise, then, to read the following recommendation from a recent Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into the SDGs: “International trade has played an important role in reducing extreme poverty. But such gains often come at the expense of the environment. It is equally important that the poorest and most vulnerable groups are not further impoverished by changing trade rules and agreements. The UK government’s renewed focus on income poverty should not view economic development in isolation, but equally consider the environmental and social impacts of this economic activity and promote low-carbon growth.”

The SDGs’ 17 goals and 167 targets have led some, including the UK’s own secretary of state for international development, to argue that it is not so much a strategy as a shopping list. I don’t mind a shopping list. They are useful for not being sucked into purchasing more than you need or forgetting any important items.

But right at the bottom of our SDG shopping list, hidden in its deepest recesses, is the one thing we must absolutely not forget to put in our basket. Target 17.14 simply call us to “enhance policy coherence for development”. That’s it. Nothing more. But of all the targets, right now it’s looking like the one that will be most complex, most controversial and yet most critical to pull off. And pull it off we must, because if we don’t we will continue to drive development policy on the left hand, only to see the right hand of trade reform continue to rip the benefits away again.

Barbara Crowther is director of policy and public affairs at Fairtrade Foundation.

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