How Does The Proposed TPP Affect Our Food? You Need To Know.

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If you haven’t heard about Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), you are not alone. Up until recently it had very little media coverage, despite being one of the biggest global trade deals ever negotiated. This is mainly because TPP has been kept quiet and most of the negotiations have been “behind closed doors.”

It appears that this deal, which would lift tariffs and other barriers to trade between the U.S. and 11 other countries, may be closer to happening, and some folks are speculating that the new Republican-run congress will speed up the deal’s passage even more. It is by no means a done deal yet, which is important for us citizens to know because while its intentions may be good, TPP is also fraught with problems that will affect our food system and the dominance of corporate powers.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) paints a beautiful picture:

TPP will provide new market access for Made-in-America goods and services, strong and enforceable labor standards and environmental commitments, groundbreaking new rules on state-owned enterprises, a robust and balanced intellectual property rights framework, and a thriving digital economy."

This hints at how massive and broad-reaching the deal is. Danielle Kurtzleben of Vox gives a pretty fair and unbiased review worth reading. For another primer, check out Lydia DePillis’s Washington Post article as well.

USTR claims that TPP will make the U.S. more competitive in our ever-growing global economy. However, plenty of critics claim that a much less ideal global situation will result.

Impacts

Politico Magazine recently gathered opinions from 13 global thinkers, which come out as a mixed bag of pros and cons.

Michael Brune of the Sierra Club warns of the potential environmental impacts in the U.S. due to a provision on fracking:

A lesser-known consequence of the pact, however, is its potential to open the floodgates for dangerous fracking in our country. The TPP would require the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve all natural gas exports to other countries in the pact, including Japan—the world’s largest importer of natural gas—regardless of the harm fracking causes to American families and neighborhoods."

All opinions, however, are not critical, and many people see positive benefits. Carter Roberts of World Wildlife Fund speculates that the pact could benefit global fisheries in peril:

For all the fanfare about free trade, the TPP could actually be the first multi-national trade agreement to address ocean conservation. More specifically, it could help stop a thriving black market for illegal fish that is destroying a critical part of the world’s food supply, decimating livelihoods and propping up drug trafficking and slavery."

Roberts hopes that environmental protections put in place with TPP would be a boon for global conservation, which may be true, but it is pretty hard do anything other than speculate because no one, except for Congress, the White House,, and their Asian counterparts know much of anything about this deal. That being said, there are plenty of organizations out there with their ear to the ground.

TPP and our Food System

With many of the problems of our food system coming from the power that a relative few global players (think Cargill, Coca-Cola, Unilever, etc.) have over our food supply—and the way that is produced—a trade deal as large as TPP could have big effects on the way that the world eats. While the deal might get us lower prices on apples from New Zealand, one large concern is what it would do to smallholder farmers, who make up a very large percent of the global farming population.  Anders Riel Muller, Ayumi Kinezuka and Tanya Kerssen of Food First speculated back in 2013:

The TPP countries with food production still in the hands of millions of smallholders would almost certainly be crushed by cheap imports from countries with strong industrial agriculture sectors. Surely, some would benefit: mostly big industrial farms, corporate seed companies, agro-chemical companies and large agricultural trading firms. Food producers—i.e. farmers not producing commodities for the industrial food, feed and agrofuels complex—have been completely  excluded from TPP negotiations.

TPP and Corporate Power

Public Citizen, the liberal watchdog and lobbyist group, identifies one of the more egregious corporate allowances in past free-trade agreements (FTA): the “investor-state” which would apply heavily to TPP:

A little-known FTA mechanism called “investor-state” enforcement allows foreign firms to skirt domestic court systems and directly sue governments for cash damages (our tax dollars) over alleged violations of their new rights before UN and World Bank tribunals staffed by private sector attorneys who rotate between serving as "judges" and bringing cases for corporations. Using this extreme system, corporations have sued the U.S. government in foreign trade tribunals for enacting laws or regulations that “interfered” with the corporations’ expected profits.  This “interference” has included essential environmental regulations, health laws, and domestic court decisions."  

To shed light on power that might be allotted to corporate entities were TPP to pass unchanged, Public Citizen created two maps showing over 6,000 corporations and their 54,000 affiliates operating within the US and within the TPP partners which would gain the right to wage lawsuits against countries if regulations were not to their liking.

The TPP Fast Track

Concern is growing over the speed with which TPP may be passed. Shorey Meyers writes for the Health and Environment Funders Network on the problems of the TPP and a growing coalition of funders who are fighting for the public interest on this deal. Meyers explains that, on the U.S. side of things, the deal is being moved through Congress at an alarming rate, one which may not allow for all of the checks and balances that are usually afforded during the democratic process:

This threat to democracy and government in the public interest is made possible in the US by a procedure known as "Fast Track." Fast Track is designed to allow the executive branch to accelerate trade agreements and insulate them from scrutiny, “fast tracking” them through Congress with severely limited debate, allowing no amendments and only a straight up or down vote."

Meyers directs us to the Stop Fast Track website which offers resources to contact your Congressional representatives asking them to slow down the TPP process.

The TPP is a huge trade deal that could have some drastic effects on economies, natural systems and human health across the globe. Let’s all keep our eyes out for developments on this hard to follow behemoth.

Sources:

Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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