The TPP and Food Safety

The so-called TPP is a free trade agreement that was under negotiation for several years. It was originally formed in 2006 as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership - a free trade agreement now in effect between Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, and Brunei, the so-called P4. In 2008, the USA, along with Australia, Peru, and Vietnam, joined the negotiations. Malaysia followed as the ninth negotiating partner in October 2010, while Canada and Mexico entered the TPP talks in October 2012. In 2011, Japan’s then Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, announced that he had ‘decided to enter into consultations toward participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations with the countries concerned’.[1] The decision was welcomed by most of the business community but strongly opposed by the agricultural lobby, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Ndrinsuisanshd, MAFF) and divided both the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the then opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Farmers, agricultural cooperatives (JA), and the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (Zenchu), who have worked against free trade agreements in the past, have been particularly vehement in their stance against the TPP because it aims at abolishing all tariffs on agricultural products.[2] In the December 2012 lower house election, the DPJ lost its majority to the LDP, who had opposed the TPP before the election. However, in March 2013, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo declared that Japan would join the TPP negotiations. This came as a shock to Japan’s domestic farm lobby,[3] but nevertheless, Japan joined the TPP negotiations at the 18th TPP meeting in Malaysia, in July 2013.

The TPP covers the following issues: ‘market access for goods and services; government procurement; foreign investment; technical barriers to trade; trade remedies; sanitary and phytosanitary measures; intellectual property rights; worker rights; and environmental protection’.[4] TPP negotiations were strongly criticized by NGOs in all countries concerned because they took place behind closed doors. While representatives from TNCs and so-called official corporate ‘trade advisors’ had access, the public, press and parliaments of those countries involved in the negotiations could not see any documents other than those that had been leaked to the public.[5] The TPP is also criticized because rather than promoting free trade, it promotes managed trade that favours each country’s most powerful business lobbies. TPP opponents also fear that with TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS)[6] provisions, foreign investors can sue governments over lost potential future profits.[7] [8]

Although not necessarily addressed in the negotiations, the food safety issues discussed with regard to the TPP were: food additives, the abolishment of the import ban on gelatine and collagen made from US beef, and a simplification of the approval procedure for postharvest fungicides. Some post-harvest fungicides are considered food additives in Japan and therefore must be labelled as such. Under the TPP, these substances could be classified as pesticides and, thus, mandatory labelling would no longer be necessary.11 In 2013, there was lots of speculation about changes in the labelling of GM foods, because no information on the content of the TPP’s SPS chapter had been released. With regard to the SPS chapter, it was unclear whether the TPP could actually affect national SPS measures at all. On the one hand, food safety standards are defined according to ‘scientific principles and analysis’[9] in international agreements such as the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement). On the other hand, states can adopt more restrictive standards ‘when the scientific data warrant additional restrictions’.[10] In any case, proponents of agricultural liberalization argue that if the USA were to demand that Japan adopt the US national food safety standards, this would be a violation of international law.[11]

  • [1] Terada, ‘Japan and the Trans-Pacific Partnership’, 1.
  • [2] Ibid., 2.
  • [3] George Mulgan, ‘Japan’s TPP “Shock”’.
  • [4] Cooper and Manyin, ‘Japan’s Possible Entry’, 2.
  • [5] Uchida, ‘Dai 16 kai Shingaporu TPP’; CUJ, ‘Civil Society’.
  • [6] Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) is an instrument of public international law that grants aforeign investor the right to use dispute settlement proceedings against the government of the hostcountry if it violates the rights that were granted to the foreign investor.
  • [7] Rafferty, ‘Too Early for TPP Cheers’.
  • [8] Oyamada, ‘Oshiete! TPP 4’, 7.
  • [9] Echols, Food Safety, 4.
  • [10] Busch and Bain, ‘New! Improved?’, 326.
  • [11] Yamashita, ‘Misunderstanding over Food-Safety Standards’.
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