The TPP's SPS Chapter

In early November 2015, the outline of the TPP agreement was finally released; almost a month after the agreement was reached in Atlanta. The SPS chapter is 18 pages long and has several objectives, among them ‘to ensure that sanitary or phytosanitary measures implemented by a Party do not create unjustified obstacles to trade’.[1] However, the SPS chapter does not address any of the controversial issues feared by TPP opponents such as pesticides, food additives, or GM food labelling. The TPP’s SPS chapter introduces a system where TPP partner countries audit each other’s food safety authorities and inspection systems. It also sees the establishment of a committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures to effectively implement the SPS chapter.[2] However, the SPS chapter does not say anything about the consequences if a country’s inspection system is found to be ‘inappropriate’ or when disputes are brought to the SPS committee. Although the document does not contain any direct indication that changes in food safety standards and other SPS measures will become necessary, it does not explicitly state that SPS measures cannot be changed. According to the WTO’s SPS agreement, SPS measures have to be based on a scientific risk analysis.

Most of the features of the SPS chapter are quite similar to other PTAs’ SPS chapters.[3] However, agricultural policy specialists criticize the TPP contract because the SPS chapter does not cover any controversial issues such as GMOs. Instead, it hides them in Chapter 2 on ‘National Treatment and Access for Market Goods’,[4] so that ‘controversies over GMOs or synthetic biology would be judged based on the criteria of market access rather than risk assessments of their safety for human health or the environment’.[5] Furthermore, there is no reference to the relationship between Articles 2-29 from Chapter 2 and the SPS chapter. In fact, the text reveals very little about how governments will provide the ‘appropriate level of sanitary or phytosanitary protection’. The language of the chapter is very general and vague. Key words are ‘appropriate’, ‘reasonable’, ‘rational’, and ‘science’ or ‘scientific’.[6] The reference to science is not only vague but the applicability of ‘science’ to SPS measures is further qualified according to whether trade and regulatory officials deem the SPS measures to be economically feasible.[7] While the focus of the Codex Alimentarius[8] is to avoid unjustified differences in the level of consumer health protection, the main objective of the TPP’s SPS chapter is to enable food and agricultural trade.[9]

Of course, the concept of ‘science’ and an ‘objective scientific base’ for food safety standards has also been criticized with regard to the WTO’s SPS Agreement as well as national food legislations.[10] Yet the ‘scientific’ decision as to whether a country’s SPS measures are deemed non-tariff barriers to trade or necessary to protect domestic consumers is also an object of political and economic consideration. Suppan fears that the ‘science’ referred to in the text could be the kind of unpublished corporate science studies he has frequently observed as being used to justify US rule-making and commercial approvals.[9]

The Japanese Cabinet Office’s TPP Affairs Bureau has not specifically mentioned any of these problems. In a statement released in October 2015, the bureau commented that the SPS chapter will improve Japan’s food exports and, although it exceeds the WTO’s SPS Agreement, the chapter will not destroy Japan’s food safety or necessitate changes in Japan’s current food safety regulatory system. The Cabinet Office’s summary of the TPP only briefly mentions that ‘an exchange about GMO is determined’ in the chapter about market access.[12] In conclusion, the SPS chapter itself still does not give any concrete hints as to how controversial food safety issues are going to be treated under the TPP, but it does suggest that there is a tendency to favour economic objectives over the protection of consumer health.

  • [1] USTR, ‘TPP SPS Chapter’, Article 7-2.d.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Stoler, ‘TBT and SPS Measures in Practice’.
  • [4] USTR, TPP Full Text, Chapter 2, Article 29.
  • [5] Suppan, ‘The TPP SPS Chapter’, 1.
  • [6] USTR, ‘TPP SPS Chapter’.
  • [7] Suppan, ‘The TPP SPS Chapter’, 2.
  • [8] Codex Alimentarius is a collection of internationally recognized guidelines and recommendations related to food safety issues, to which the WTO refers for the resolution of trade-relateddisputes on food safety standards.
  • [9] Suppan, ‘The TPP SPS Chapter’, 3.
  • [10] Busch and Bain, ‘New! Improved?’; Carruth, ‘Socio-economic foundations’, Echols, FoodSafety; Reiher, ‘Lebensmittelstandards als “Black Box”’.
  • [11] Suppan, ‘The TPP SPS Chapter’, 3.
  • [12] 3Naikakufu Kantei TPP Seifu Taisaku Honbu, Kantaiheiyo.
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