1. What is Free Trade?
“Free trade” describes an agreement between nations not to regulate international trade by applying tariffs or subsidies on goods and services.
Free trade agreements require countries to eliminate a number of so called “trade barriers.” These can be policies that support domestic industries, including border taxes, caps on quantities traded and subsidies, or specific rules on food safety, labeling or environmental standards. In addition to possibly having to change their laws on food safety and environmental protection, countries entering trade agreements often establish new rights for corporations to patent ideas, seeds or products, and facilitate financial transactions.
2. What countries do the United States have free trade agreements with?
The United States currently has free trade agreements in force with 20 countries, and is in negotiations with more. Visit our page about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to learn more.
3. Can a foreign corporation sue the United States if it wants to eliminate a "barrier?"
Yes. Free trade agreements give multinational corporations the power to challenge government regulations, such as environmental laws, by suing countries in an international court.
4. What is Food Sovereignty?
Food sovereignty is the principle that people have the right to define their own food and agriculture system. Rather than allowing trade agreements and disputes settled by the World Trade Organization, food sovereignty calls for local communities to have the right to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development; to determine the extent to which they want to be self-reliant for goods and services; and to restrict the dumping of products in their markets.
5. What is the World Trade Organization?
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a forum in which representatives from national governments determine the rules that govern global trade. WTO rules often benefit multinational corporations at the expense of public health, jobs and the environment.
When WTO rules come into conflict with the laws of individual countries, the WTO tends to win. There are approximately 60 WTO agreements currently enforced.
6. What is Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA)?
Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) refers to WTO negotiations to increase trade in products that aren’t already included in the World Trade Organization’s agriculture agreement, such as manufactured products, minerals, lumber and notably, fish and fish products. Including fish in NAMA will pose severe threats to sustainable development by intensifying the exploitation of fisheries that millions of people depend on for survival.
7. What is the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)?
The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is a WTO agreement that went into effect in 1995, and negotiations are currently underway to expand its rules. GATS covers a broad range of economic activity that the other agreements do not cover, such as health care, education, sewage treatment and the construction of infrastructure. Under GATS, the United States has agreed to diminish its laws on agricultural work, animal husbandry, fishing, food processing, packaging, food labeling, shipping, storage, food retailing and restaurant service.
For more on efforts to expand GATS, check out Regulation Degradation.
8. What is the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA)?
The AoA is the section of WTO rules that deal with trade in agricultural goods. It went into effect in 1995, and negotiations are currently trying to expand its rules. AoA requires WTO members to reduce tariffs and some subsidies, and change other government policies on agricultural goods. This agreement has facilitated the domination of markets by multinational agribusiness corporations, to the detriment of small farmers.