Free Trade Negotiations and Global Food Politics
The United States and the European Union are currently negotiating a new free trade agreement known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TFTA), sometimes also referred to as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The agreement aims to harmonize regulatory frameworks (particularly in the areas of food safety, consumer protections, and environmental standards) in the United States and Europe to made trade easier. Given the inability of the World Trade Organization to make progress towards closing the Doha Round over the past decade, many countries are moving to bilateral and regional blocs to liberalize international trade. The TFTA fits within this broader context.
But food policy advocates have raised several concerns over the potential impact of the proposed TFTA on food politics and in particular on labeling requirements.
Blogging at Huffington Post, Michael Lipsky argues that existing European regulations requiring labeling of GM foods could be weakened by the agreement, and warns that the movement to require similar labeling in the United States could be undermined by the agreement. He notes in particular that the secrecy surrounding the negotiations and the requirement that Congress approve or reject the treaty without amendment increases the likelihood of this outcome. He also notes that major food manufacturers, including Nestle, Kraft, ADM, and Cargill, have all offered their “support and assistance as the EU and the US governments look to enhance their trade relationship.”
Also blogging at Huffington Post, Elizabeth Kucinich and Debbie Barker note that existing labeling requirements have already come under challenge from the World Trade Organization. Last year, a U.S. country-of-origin provision requiring labeling of meat was a product-related technical regulation that violated WTO rules. The WTO’s decision requires the United States to abolish its country-of-origin labeling requirement for meat or face countervailing sanctions imposed by Canada and Mexico. The conclude that,
the majority of binding and enforceable rulings of the WTO and those of other trade bodies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) demonstrate a consistent pattern of lowering food, environmental, labor, or consumer safety standards in behest to trade agendas.
Trade could indeed be the vehicle through which societies are improved, jobs opportunities grown and environments strengthened. It’s time for a new, open and transparent trade model where sovereign democracy is upheld and the interests of citizens are put above those of corporations.
A successful conclusion to the TFTA negotiations is hardly a foregone conclusion. European negotiators have to balance the competing interests of 28 different member states with policies ranging from broadly supportive (e.g., Germany) to deeply suspicious (e.g., France) of an expanded free trade agreement with the United States. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.