The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may have negative implications for the food sector. President Obama’s administration is conducting negotiations with more than 500 multinational companies to write the rules of the TPP, a trade deal between the United States and 12 Pacific Rim countries.
Essentially, free trade agreements make it easier for corporations to shift production to where it’s cheapest—while undermining local food systems, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). International trade deals can affect a wide range of laws and programs, and can lock decisions into permanent agreements. The TPP will set up special courts in which multinational companies can sue federal, state, or local governments for policies that impede profits of corporations engaged in international trade. As explained in IATP's "Fast Track Threats to Food and Agriculture," this could include fair trade labeling, farm-to-school programming, and food safety regulation. The TPP may also rewrite the rules on food safety, public procurement, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and patents on seeds.
The TPP isn’t the first trade deal of its kind. Under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), U.S. companies gained new rights to grow cattle in Canada and pork in Mexico, causing independent U.S. hog and poultry producers to vanish. Huge increases in corn imports have destroyed livelihoods of Mexican farmers, and the expansion of factory farms contributes to growing environmental devastation and worsening labor conditions in all three countries, according to IATP. In 2009, agricultural commodity giant Cargill won a US$77 million settlement against Mexico through NAFTA when Mexico tried to limit the import of high fructose corn syrup. Some food advocates attribute the obesity crisis in Mexico to NAFTA policies.
In addition, these agreements aren’t the result of thorough and informed public debate. Under Fast Track rules, parties negotiate trade deals behind closed doors, with the final results presented to the U.S. Congress for an up or down vote. No amendments or filibusters are allowed, and limited floor debate occurs under Fast Track authority. Congress will likely vote on whether to renew Fast Track, which expired in 2007, later this month. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) may reintroduce Fast Track on April 13, 2015.
Because Fast Track's dramatic shift in the balance of powers between branches of government occurred via an arcane procedural mechanism, it garnered little scrutiny –until recently. In 2014, more than 550 organizations representing 15 million Americans sent a letter to Congress to oppose the renewal of Fast Track authority. According to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, grassroots opposition is growing across the nation and could cause bumps in the Obama administration’s plan for TPP. “In the 20-plus years I’ve been working on trade issues, I have never seen this level of unity across the entire progressive world,” says Wallach.
Even TPP’s supporters acknowledge the intrinsic link between the Fast Track and transnational trade. As Roger Altman, a former deputy secretary of the Treasury, and Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, write, “the coming vote [on Fast Track authority] is the equivalent to a vote on the TPP itself."
A National Day of Action will take place on April 18, 2015. Farmers, union leaders, environmental advocates, Internet freedom champions, and thousands of concerned consumers will unite to oppose the Fast Tracking of the TPP.
Leading up to the National Day of Action, Real Food Challenge will host two action-oriented webinars on April 9, 2015 and April 15, 2015. The webinars are open to anyone, and will provide accessible information on the TPP, calling on Congress to block Fast Track renewal. Registration is available here.