By Susanne Schuster
You must have heard of the latest attempt to create a free trade area between the EU and the USA, haven't you? The topic has hardly been covered in the mainstream media and European citizens have been told almost nothing about the explosive content of this planned free trade agreement. However, digging a bit deeper in the alternative media to find out what is really at stake sparks an almighty rage. If our parliamentary representatives took their task seriously and possessed a spark of integrity then all their alarm bells should ring. Because this “free trade agreement” constitutes a frontal attack on our democracy, or rather, what is left of it.
In July of this year the official negotiations for the so called “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”, abbreviated TTIP, were started. The expressed intention is to have signed an agreement by the end of 2014 to establish a Transatlantic Free Trade Area, TAFTA, between the USA and the EU.
The official propaganda states that this treaty is about harmonising standards – with large corporations and investors determining what these standards should be. In plain language harmonising standards means a race to the lowest standards, so that US corporations will be able to sell their GMO rubbish, chlorinated chickens, hormone pigs and cattle on the EU market. If these standards are not complied with, states are threatened with sanctions for an unlimited period of time or gigantic compensation claims. More on that below.
Above all, the “free trade agreement” is about the removal of any remaining so called “trade barriers” (tariffs between the USA and EU have largely been abolished); that is, such tiresome things for big business such as labour rights, health & safety and social legislation, food and product safety standards, environmental and climate protection measures, financial market regulation. In short: all those things that make the lives of ordinary working people bearable.
The negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, so that common folk won't notice what is really at stake. On the other hand 600 official “consultants” from large corporations have privileged access to the negotiations to bring in their ideas.
Lori Wallach states: “There is a simple reason for this secrecy. Such a treaty would oblige national governments including local administrations to adapt their current and future domestic policies to a comprehensive system of rules. This treaty would codify legislative requirements negotiated at a diplomatic level, which at the request of the corporations would apply to many non trade related areas, such as the safety and labelling of foods, the maximum values for chemical and toxic contamination, the health system and the pricing of medicines, the right to internet privacy, energy supply and cultural 'services', patents and copyrights, use of land and resources, the rights and employment opportunities of immigrants, public procurement and many other things.”1
Arguably the most outrageous aspect of this treaty is that corporations can sue the living daylights out of states and authorities that have breached the rules, through an arbitration court dominated by a small clique of corporate lawyers. The corporations can sue states and authorities for compensation payments if the courts find that “expected future profits” are reduced because of certain measures such as environmental regulations and social rights. Under US free trade treaties more than $ 400 million of taxpayers' money has already been paid in compensation to corporations that went to court over bans of toxic substances, licensing rules, laws on water protection and forest use and other “anti investment” rules.2 For example, under NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Area) the Canadian government was sued by the manufacturer of a cancer causing additive in fuel for $ 250 million in “lost business opportunities and interference with trade” because it had banned the additive. Fearing that it would lose the case, the Canadian government lifted the ban, declared the additive as “safe” and paid the manufacturer $ 10 million compensation.3
It is therefore clear that if this legislation comes into force the rights of investors will take precedence over the protection of our health, the environment and social rights. The rights of corporations will have higher priority than the sovereignty of states. In other words: the last scraps of democracy will be abolished.
Michael Parenti has summarised it perfectly in relation to existing treaties: “But let it be repeated: what also is overthrown is the right to have such laws. This is the most important point of all and the one most frequently overlooked by persons from across the political spectrum. Under the free trade accords, corporate investment rights have been upraised to imperial supremacy, able to take precedent over all other rights, including the right to a clean, livable environment, the right to affordable public services, and the right to any morsel of political-economic democracy. Under the banner of 'free trade,' corporate property rights are elevated above all democratic rights.”4
What for? The establishment of the transatlantic free trade area is justified by the tired, old and unfounded mantra of economic growth and job creation as well as wealth for all. However, the projected economic gain is negligible. Based on the – optimistic and probably made up out of thin air – estimates of the EU commission, the average EU household would have an extra 500 euro annually, or 42 euro per month5, which I bet will be eaten up by the rising cost of living in no time at all. It's a joke!
There are completely different interests behind the treaty. The markets for many products and services in the private sector are saturated. For example, the US market for GMO soy and corn is almost exhausted for Monsanto. How on earth should permenent profit growth be generated to satisfy the expected return on investment by greedy shareholders? By new markets, of course, and by selling more stuff. Capital is constantly forced to create new spheres of investment, until it has penetrated all corners of the world and turned them into a commodity. For the vast majority of the world's population and the environment this would be a disaster of gigantic dimensions. We can only stop this development if we become totally conscious of this looming catastrophe and resist with determination and vigour. We have to value any – still remaining – public space and public goods and services, and defend them tooth and nail. We need some serious action, so let's fight and protest.
1 Lori Wallach, TAFTA – die große Unterwerfung, Le Monde Diplomatique, 8.1.2013 http://www.monde-diplomatique.de/pm/2013/11/08/a0003.text
2 Lori Wallach, TAFTA – die große Unterwerfung, Le Monde Diplomatique, 8.1.2013 http://www.monde-diplomatique.de/pm/2013/11/08/a0003.text
3 Michael Parenti, The Face of Imperialism, Paradigm 2011, S. 64
4 ibid. P. 71
5 Silvia Liebrich, Es geht um mehr als nur Zölle, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 11.11.2013 http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/freihandelsabkommen-zwischen-usa-und-eu-es-geht-um-mehr-als-nur-zoelle-1.1815472
By Susanne Schuster
Recently I had the opportunity to complete an introductory course on permaculture at a very low price. I have been interested in this topic as such for a while, but didn't know all that much about it in actuality. Here I would like to introduce the ethics and principles of permaculture. I will also show inspiring permaculture projects from Jordan, Zimbabwe and Eritrea in a series of articles. These models show how even extremely salty, damaged soils can be regenerated with relatively simple, locally available resources.
Permaculture is combined from the terms Permanent Agriculture. There are many different definitions of permaculture. Essentially it is a practical system for living sustainably and regenerating the earth and our communties. It is based on observing principles and patterns in nature. Rather than seeing living systems as disconnected parts, permaculture helps us to see them as a whole and to maximise the relationship between things, while also working within an ethical framework. Permaculture empowers people worldwide to develop dynamic, resilient systems and projects that work with nature, rather than against it.
Permaculture is based on three ethical core values:
These are some of the most important principles of permaculture:
Another essential element is zoning, with the zones being drawn according to how much human attention is required.
Ultimately these principles are ancient and most of us can grasp them intuitively; however, the industrial and mechanistic way of production and perception of the environment has largely displaced them, with the corresponding catastrophic consequences. They are diametrically opposed to the profit driven capitalist economy, to which human and environmental needs must be subordinated absolutely. With permaculture the world's population can be fed sustainably and hunger and poverty can be fought successfully, as shown be the example below. In contrast the hightech solutions of Monsanto, Bayer and all the other agroindustry giants are never about feeding the world; their aim is rather to fill the pockets of their shareholders.
Greening the desert in Jordan
With their permaculture project in Jordan the Australian permaculturist Geoff Lawton and his Jordanian wife Nadia Lawton show how the desert can be greened. More than 92 percent of Jordan is desert land and that percentage is growing. It has one of the lowest levels of water availability in the world. The usage of renewable water resources is 120 percent, thus it is foreseeable that these water resources will soon be exhausted. The industrial, chemically laden agriculture uses 70 percent of the water like everywhere in the world. Regenerating the soil is therefore a matter of survival.
With Geoff Lawton's first project in 2001 a 10 acre site was regenerated, in the driest area on earth, 400m below sea level, with heavily damaged and salty soil. A total of 1.5km of swales were created where every single drop of rainwater was harvested that fell on the land. The swales were laid in contours and then covered with a thick layer of mulch. On the upper side of the swales hardy, nitrogen fixing desert trees were planted and on the lower side different fruit trees. Initially people laughed at Lawton and his team because the trenches were not running in straight lines but in contours. But then incredible things happened: Within four months the fig trees carried fruit, which should be impossible in this area. It turned out that the salt levels of the soil were falling, using only 20 percent of the amount of water normally used for washing through the salt and beneath the layer of mulch so much humidity was being created that even mushrooms grew. (The people there had never seen mushrooms, because there had never been this much humidity in living memory.) The soil came alive with insects and small animals. The funghi net was putting off a waxy substance that repelled the salt and the decomposition process is locking the salt up.
As the funding of the project ran out after three years, it finished and was left to itself. When Lawton came back after eight years in 2009, much had been badly managed, but the fundamental design of the permaculture system was still intact - proof of its resilience.
Geoff Lawton said: “All the problems of the world can be solved in a garden.” But many people didn't know that and were therefore insecure.
Now Lawton is working on a second “Greening the Desert” project right next to the first site, but with long term own funding to ensure the correct management. Since then many practical projects have been initiated and the permaculture techniques have been passed on from farmer to farmer and country to country. This new permaculture project enjoys broad support by the people and even by the Jordanian government. People must have realised how essential a radical change is.
During a drought in 2008 the olive harvest in the whole of Jordan failed – except in the permaculture village Bayoudah. The trees survived due to mulching and composting.
These images show the thriving green oasis created with the “Greening the Desert” project in one of the most extreme climate zones in the world. If only a fraction of the money spent on the barbarous wars in the pursuit for oil and other commodities fuelling the insatiable capitalist machine were spent on such projects, how much livable environment and human happiness could be achieved?
This ca. 30 minute video documents the first and second Greening the Desert project by Geoff and Nadia Lawton. Highly recommended! Greening the Desert II: Greening the Middle East on Vimeo or in 4 parts on Youtube.
Further information on Permaculture:
The Permaculture Research Institute
The Permaculture Association
For my writings, articles and translations in German visit missubuntu.wordpress.com
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