Ongoing trade negotiations proposals could threaten local food systems from the Global North to the Global South, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement between 12 countries—the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam—with the option for other countries to sign on later. TPP is currently being negotiated. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which just began negotiations last summer, is a new agreement between the United States and the European Union. Both trade talks have been negotiated behind closed doors, though portions of the discussion have become available after different rounds.
A number of organizations including the IATP and the National Farmers Union have expressed concern for what this will mean for local food:
- Both the TPP and the TTIP are pushing to harmonize regulations for food safety, chemical policy (i.e. pesticide use in agriculture), and labeling laws resulting in less national sovereignty. National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson says in a letter he submitted to the U.S. trade representative in the TTIP negotiations, “Countries participating in trade agreements should maintain control of their own domestic programs and agreements must not force participants to cede their sovereignty.” For example, the U.S. is pressuring the EU to eliminate genetically modified food labeling laws or relax chemical policy, while the EU is exerting its own pressure on the U.S. to eliminate country-of-origin labeling, according to an Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy op-ed on Alertnet. According to the IATP, it would also limit what food safety measures could be taken nationally, such as the recent U.S. Food and Modernization Act and the U.S.’s regulation of the import of European beef.
- The new agreements, which are preceded by the North American Free Trade Agreement, will increase corporate control of the food system, strengthening agribusinesses by requiring governments to treat foreign firms as they do national firms, according to the IATP. Additionally, it gives corporations the right to sue governments over laws that undermine their profits. This has already happened under NAFTA’s arbitration tribunal, which awarded a US$77 million settlement to Cargill, a Minnesota-based multinational corporation, after Mexico imposed trade barriers on high fructose-corn syrup.
- Local products and services would not receive special protection if a new proposal from the TTIP for removing “localization barriers” is adopted. This would remove national government’s right to protect domestic products. Already favored in U.S. trade policy, the idea is to secure formalized EU cooperation for this approach.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office listed Malaysia’s certification process for halal beef as one example of a localization barrier. Similarly, domestic regulations would be subject to the TTP’s rules, which would ban the Buy America and the Buy Local procurement preferences of the U.S. government.
Karen Hansen-Kuhn, the Director of International Strategies at the IATP, points out in a commentary that “both the U.S. and EU, for example, support farm-to-school programs that favor locally produced foods in school lunch programs, even if the cost is somewhat higher.” This also threatens local food programs, such as the Los Angeles Food Policy Council’s Good Food Purchasing Program, which seeks to get large institutions to pledge to specific food procurement procedures, according to the IATP. However, better policies could guide trade in a way that benefited family farmers, raising the bar for labor rights, environmental sustainability, and equitability, according to Citizen Trade Campaign, which advocates for environmental and social justice in trade policies.
“Consciously steering economic policies in the direction of democratically determined local priorities is at the heart of sustainable and equitable development,” said Hansen-Kuhn.