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Big Ag’s Wish List Fulfilled in TPP

By Debbie Barker, International Programs Director

November 14, 2015
Center for Food Safety

The highly anticipated text of the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), negotiated by 12 countries representing around 40 percent of the global economy, was released Thursday morning. Center for Food Safety (CFS) is reviewing the agreement consisting of 30 chapters and more than 2,000 pages to assess potential impacts on food safety, genetically engineered foods and crops, food labeling, pesticides and other chemical usage, intellectual property rights pertaining to seeds and pharmaceuticals, and other public health and environmental issues.

An initial review reveals that the agreement compromises food safety and public health, notably through measures pertaining to U.S. border inspection of food imports. The agreement limits food import inspections “to what is reasonable and necessary,” and—perhaps most alarming—requires border inspectors to notify food importers if a negative food safety check is issued so they can challenge the port inspection findings. This measure, known as the Rapid Response Mechanism, which was aggressively pushed by big food industry throughout the TPP negotiations, gives new rights to countries importing food into the U.S. and could potentially include the right to challenge even laboratory food safety testing and the new food import rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The TPP language could dissuade rigorous oversight of imported foods, including inspection of fish imported from TPP member countries that raise farmed fish with chemicals and antibiotics not allowed in the U.S.  As was pointed out by CFS and other consumer groups during TPP negotiations, already federal inspection of seafood imports is inadequate with just over 1 percent of imported fish and seafood shipments being inspected or tested. This final reveal of TPP confirms that food safety is undermined by this agreement when it comes to border inspections.

Private Corporations Could Set Food Standards

One of the most concerning aspects of the TPP is the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, an extrajudicial legal body that allows private corporations to sue national governments over rules that companies believe inhibit their profit-making ability.  Should the TPP be signed into law, the ISDS is where the full scope of the TPP will play out over the next several years. This closed-door tribunal where attorneys can rotate between acting as judges and as advocates for investors is where corporations will test the language and intent of the agreement. Any U.S. food safety rules on GMOs, labeling, pesticides, animal drugs, or additives that is higher than international standards could be subject to challenge as "illegal trade barriers."

As ISDS tribunals in other trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) attest, trade courts have consistently ruled against nation-state bans on toxins, laws protecting forests or water services, restrictions on mining, and many other public and environmental safeguards. Initial analysis of the TPP text indicates that it may be even easier for private corporations to challenge domestic food safety and other standards through ISDS in this agreement than in prior trade agreements. A particular concern is that a U.S.-owned food and agribusiness can now challenge domestic public health laws they do not like through their subsidiaries in TPP countries.

Patenting and Intellectual Property Rights

On a positive note, it appears that efforts by CFS and other organizations were successful in halting the initial effort by the U.S. to force other nations to adopt our patent practices and to force them to recognize our patents on plants and animals. .  The U.S. pushed hard to compell other nations to adopt our patenting process for living organisms, which, unlike patent laws in many other countries, allows patents on plants and animals like genetically engineered crops. .  The final text still allows microbes, engineered or not, to be patented. The U.S. and the other TTP nations would be better off eliminating sections dealing with patenting of living organisms and maintaining the flexibility on plant and animal patents allowed in the World Trade Organization. 

Next Steps

Now TPP governments—Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam must ratify the agreement.  In the U.S., under “fast-track” trade authority passed earlier this year, the Obama Administration is required to provide 90 days for Congressional review after which time legislators must vote a straight yes/no and are not allowed to amend any text of the TPP. It’s a take it or leave it deal and CFS urges Congressional members to oppose this deal and instead only endorse trade agreements that will protect and raise food safety, public health, and environmental standards and protect U.S. jobs.

To learn more, check out our blog “Top 5 Reasons Eaters should be Worried about Obama’s New Trade Deal.”

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