Something is looming in the shadows that could help erode our basic rights and contaminate our food. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has the potential to become the biggest regional free-trade agreement in history, both in economic size and the ability to quietly add more countries in addition to those originally included.
As of 2011, 11 countries accounted for 30% of the world’s agricultural exports. Those countries are the US, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Recently, Japan has joined the negotiations.
Six hundred US corporate advisors have had input into the TPP. The draft text has not been made available to the public, press or policymakers. The level of secrecy around this agreement is unparalleled. The majority of US Congress is being kept in the dark while representatives of US corporations are being consulted and privy to the details.
The chief agricultural negotiator for the US is the former Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui. If ratified, the TPP would impose punishing regulations that give multinational corporations unprecedented rights to demand taxpayer compensation for policies that corporations deem a barrier to their profits.
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There appears not to be a specific agricultural chapter in the TPP. Instead, rules affecting food systems and food safety are woven throughout the text. This agreement is trying to establish corporations’ rights to skirt domestic courts and laws and sue governments directly, with taxpayers paying compensation and fines directly from the treasury.
Though TPP content remains hidden, here are some things we do know:
• Members of US Congress are concerned that the TPP would open the door to imports without resolving questions around food safety or environmental impacts on its production.
• Procurement rules specifically forbid discrimination based on the quality of production. This means that public programs that favour the use of sustainably produced local foods in school lunch programs could be prohibited.
• The labelling of foods containing GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) will not be allowed. Japan now has labelling laws for GMOs in food. Under the TPP Japan would no longer be able to label GMOs. This situation is the same for New Zealand and Australia. The US is just beginning to see some progress towards labeling GMOs. Under the TPP GMO labels for US food would not be allowed.
• In April, Peru placed a 10-year moratorium on GMO foods and plants. This prohibits the import, production and use of GMOs in foods and GMO plants and is aimed at safeguarding Peru’s agricultural diversity. The hope is to prevent cross-pollination with non-GMO crops and to ban GMO crops like “Bt corn”. What will become of Peru’s moratorium if the TPP is passed?
• There is a growing resistance to Monsanto’s agricultural plans in Vietnam. Monsanto (the US corporation controlling an estimated 90% of the world seed genetics) has a dark history with Vietnam. Many believe that Monsanto has no right to do business in a country where Monsanto’s product Agent Orange is estimated to have killed 400,000 Vietnamese, deformed a further 500,000 and stricken a further 2 million with various diseases.
Legacies of other trade agreements serve as a warning about the TPP. Trade agreements have a history of displacing small farmers and destroying local food economies. Ten years following the passage of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) 1.5 million Mexican farmers became bankrupt because they could not compete with the highly subsidised US corn entering the Mexican market.
In the same 10 years, Mexico went from a country virtually producing all its own corn to a country that now imports at least half this food staple. Mexican consumers are now paying higher prices for Monsanto’s GMO corn.
With little or no competition for large corporations, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta now control 57% of the commercial food market.
While the TPP is in many ways like NAFTA and other existing trade agreements, it appears that the corporations have learnt from previous experience. They are carefully crafting the TPP to ensure citizens of the involved countries have no control over food safety, what they will be eating, where it is grown, the conditions under which food is grown and the use of herbicides and pesticides.
If the TPP is adopted the door will be open wider for human rights and environmental abuse. Some of the things we should expect to see include:
• more large-scale farming and more monocultures;
• destruction of local economies;
• no input into how our food is grown or what we will be eating;
• more deforestation;
• increased use of herbicides and pesticides;
• more industrial pollution;
• increased patenting of life forms;
• more GMO plants and foods; and
• no labelling of GMOs in food.
Together these are a step backwards for human rights and a giant step towards Monsanto’s control of our food.
[Barbara Chicherio is treasurer of the Gateway Green Alliance and National Committee member of the Green Party USA. This article was first published at occupy-monsanto.com.]