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US ‘threatened Ecuador with trade sanctions’ if it introduced UN breastfeeding resolution

The US backed the resolution after Russia said it would 

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Monday 09 July 2018 00:48 BST
The US blocked a resolution at a UN world health meeting that would have protected breastfeeding
The US blocked a resolution at a UN world health meeting that would have protected breastfeeding

Donald Trump’s administration has threatened Ecuador with trade sanctions if it introduces a United Nations resolution to encourage breastfeeding.

The US had supposedly asked for language asking governments to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding” to be removed. The resolution ultimately passed but not before world health officials were shocked at the behaviour of the US delegation at the May UN World Health Assembley in Geneva, the New York Times reported.

Ecuadorians, facing having important military aid from the US rescinded on top of harsh sanctions on critical goods, backed down. But, the US did not threaten Russia in the same manner.

An unnamed Russian delegate said the country stepped up to back and help pass the resolution because they felt “it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world".

The delegation was also opposed to another section of the resolution which called on countries to curtail promotion of products that medical experts agreed could cause harm to children according to more than a dozen delegates to the health meeting, the majority of whom "requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the US," according to the newspaper.

Mother shamed for breastfeeding child at nurse-in event in Idaho, US

Though US efforts were unsuccessful since the bulk of the original wording survived two whole days of procedural talks, language calling for “inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children" to end was removed due to US efforts.

The US mission to the UN nor the State Department responded to a request for comment.

It appeared, however, the US was asking to have the language removed as a sign of support for the $70bn infant formula industry which relies on mothers not exclusively breastfeeding. Baby food lobbyists were in attendance as observers to the meeting.

Patti Rundall, policy director for UK-based advocacy group Baby Milk Action, has attended several of these meetings in the past and said what the US did was "tantamount to blackmail". She said it "holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on [the] best way to protect infant and young child health".

The US also reportedly threatened to cut its contributions to the World Health Organisation - the US contributes almost 15 per cent of the agency's budget or $845m last year - if the resolution was introduced and passed. In light of the threat on Ecuador, other poorer countries in Latin America and Africa refused to introduce the resolution out of fear of American retaliation which left Russia to push it through.

A Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: “The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children. We recognise not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so". HHS was not involved in the diplomatic negotiations.

The move follows a trend of the Trump administration to play into considerations of private industry and eschew cooperation in multilateral organisations and treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), the global UN Paris Agreement on climate change, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), and various trade agreements.

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