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Top 5 Reasons Eaters should be Worried about Obama's New Trade Deal

October 6th, 2015
Center for Food Safety

Update: The full text of the TPP has just been released. CFS and our allies are examining the text closely and will share our analysis shortly. Stay tuned!

In October, 12 pacific nations reached a final agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a wide-ranging deal that would expand corporate rights across member states to the detriment of worker rights, the environment, and public health. TPP would be the largest trade deal in history -- representing 792 million people and accounting for 40 percent of the world economy.

Environmental and consumer advocates have adamantly opposed the trade agreement because it threatens to seriously undermine vital protections and regulations. Even more concerning, it's being written and negotiated in secret. That’s right—none of the details of this sweeping trade agreement are available to the public. The only text that has been made public so far has been through leaked documents. Members of Congress have extremely limited access to the negotiation texts. But corporate representatives have access to, and in some instances have helped write the negotiation documents. Unsurprisingly, from what we know so far about the agreement, it looks like corporations are set to make out like bandits.

Here are some of the top reasons why you should be worried about TPP:

#1: GMO Labeling Blocked

We’re gaining a lot of ground in the fight to label genetically engineered (GE) foods here at home, but all that work could be undone by this trade agreement. TPP countries growing genetically engineered crops could challenge U.S. state regulations, like Vermont’s, that require labels on GE foods. More broadly, any U.S. food safety rules on labeling, pesticides, or additives that is higher than international standards could be subject to challenge as "illegal trade barriers."

#2: Corporate Power Trumps Protections

TPP’s inclusion of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, is very troubling. Under ISDS, multinational corporations can sue a country in a closed-door international court over a domestic environmental, public health or other regulation that it believes inhibits its potential profits. As with past trade agreements, we can expect these extrajudicial, legally binding system to compromise our right to know where our food comes from and what’s in our food. Indeed, corporations have successfully sued national governments under ISDS provisions in other trade agreements. As one example, Canada was forced to reverse its ban on a known human neurotoxin, the gasoline additive MMT, when a U.S. corporation sued Canada under North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) investor-state provision. This case is not an anomaly—corporations have extracted more than $400 million from NAFTA governments by challenging water and forestry policies, bans on toxins, land-use rules, and more.(PDF)

#3: Outsourced Food Safety

TPP would require the U.S to allow food imports from other countries if the exporting country claims that their safety regime is "equivalent" to our own – even if it violates key principles of our food safety laws. So, fish from Vietnam and other TPP countries using antibiotics and other drugs banned in the U.S. would have to be allowed under the agreement. These rules would effectively outsource domestic food inspection to other countries.

#4: Fishy Inspections

Already about one in five shrimp, three in five crabs, and three in five catfish consumed by Americans come from TPP countries. In many TPP countries, farm fish are raised with chemicals and antibiotics that are not allowed in the U.S. The TPP aims to reduce or eliminate trade barriers on fish imports, further increase U.S. seafood imports, and put additional pressures on already inadequate federal inspection of seafood imports. Currently, just over 1 percent of imported fish and seafood shipments is inspected or tested. TPP would make this infinitely worse.

#5: Fundamentally Antidemocratic

This summer, despite a tough fight in Congress, President Obama was granted Fast Track authority to push the deal forward. Fast Track radically changes the legislative process by extending executive powers while restraining the influence of Congress. It allows the Office of the President to negotiate trade agreements that Congress must then accept entirely or reject entirely; no amendments are possible. This swallow-it-whole approach to ratifying trade agreements is a radical deviation from a careful, deliberative legislative process that should be a hallmark of a democracy.

Race to the Bottom

The TPP has been opposed by a wide range of advocacy groups, including food safety groups, environmental organizations, fair labor advocates, corporate watch dogs, and more. The overarching fear is that trade deals like the TPP will create a race to the bottom. In addition to having our own standards undermined, threats of U.S. corporate lawsuits could inhibit, or “chill,” some TPP developing countries from setting higher labor, public health, environmental, and other standards.

But the agreement between heads of states does not mean that the TPP is a done deal. All of these countries have to seek legislative approval, and in the United States, that means the U.S. Congress. Join our network to get updates as the fight comes to Congress in the coming months.

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