The full text of the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP) was released last week, and after initial reviews of the proposed treaty, concerns raised by food safety advocates during the negotiations have not been mollified.
Debbie Barker, International Programs Director for the Center for Food Safety, says the predominant issues with TPP are the Rapid Response Mechanism and the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Mechanism.
The trade agreement’s chapter on sanitary or phytosanitary measures states that border inspections on imported food must be “limited to what is reasonable and necessary, and is rationally related to the available science.” And if there’s an issue, a country has to provide “an opportunity for a review of the decision and consider any relevant information submitted to assist in the review.”
Barker refers to this measure as the Rapid Response Mechanism and says it might give countries exporting food to the U.S. the right to challenge “even laboratory food safety testing and the new food import rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act.”
Barker and her colleagues are also concerned about the inclusion of the ISDS, which the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) calls “a neutral, international arbitration procedure.” However, the Center for Food Safety calls it “an extrajudicial legal body that allows private corporations to sue national governments over rules that companies believe inhibit their profit-making ability.”
ISDS is the place to see the real effects of TPP over the years, Barker says, adding that TPP might make it easier for companies to challenge food safety standards 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,” she adds.
USTR doesn’t see it that way. Concerns about ISDS affecting governments’ ability to regulate “are why we have been at the leading edge of reforming and upgrading ISDS,” USTR said in a fact sheet released last March. “The United States has taken important steps to ensure that our agreements are carefully crafted both to preserve governments’ right to regulate and minimize abuse of the ISDS process.”
Earlier this year, Congress voted for “fast track” authority over TPP, meaning that it will be brought up for discussion without amendments and with limited debate.
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