What the Trans Pacific Partnership Would Mean for Food, Health, Jobs, and the Planet


Dear fellow Social Justice Foodies, The twelve countries involved in the Trans Pacific Partnership, including the US, Canada, and Japan, reached a final agreement earlier this week. The TPP, which would affect 40% of the world's economy, is the biggest trade-liberalizing pact since NAFTA. As a young activist, I don't remember a time before NAFTA's neoliberal trade policy went into effect. The agreement has impacted almost every major struggle in the world today, from unemployment, poverty and incarceration in the US to migration and environmental crises worldwide. The Trans Pacific Partnership is supposed to be even bigger than NAFTA, and it's critical that we understand it so that we can organize to block or amend it, as it will affect all of our lives for decades to come.

Am I the only one who feels a little intimidated trying to understand complex trade policies like the TPP? I'm not an economist or even a formally trained policy advocate. The language is often difficult to decipher, and the mainstream media (owned by the same corporations who stand to benefit from the TPP) spreads a lot of confusing information and questionable analysis. Knowing how important policies like the TPP can be, I decided to fight through my insecurity and figure out what the hell is going on. I decided to read the TPP myself. 

As it turns out, the brokers of the agreement intentionally obfuscate what the TPP will mean for our world. The actual TPP document has been hidden from the public - even our elected officials in Washington aren't allowed to read the whole thing! Thanks to Wikileaks, some chapters of the document have been leaked, and those excerpts explain why the negotiating team has tried to keep the contents of the TPP a secret - because they know that if the public knew what was contained in the agreement, there would be mass opposition.

Who does have access to reading and impacting the agreement? The CEOs, executives and lobbyists of multi-national corporations like AT&T, General Electric, Apple, Dow Chemical, Nike, Walmart the National Mining Association, and the American Petroleum Institute. Uh-oh. These are not people who share our interests. Poor people, workers, farmers, doctors, cancer patients, and communities most directly impacted by climate change will be affected by the TPP if it passes, but have no say in what should be included or excluded.

Thanks to Wikileaks and critiques from elected officialswho have read parts of the TPP, we do know some broad strokes about what this trade deal would do. It helps me to draw diagrams when I'm trying to understand something, so after researching as much as I could about the TPP, I made this handy little diagram to break down the basics:


For simplicity's sake, I'm focusing on what I believe are the three most significant policies contained in the agreement (that we know about).

  1. Reduce/eliminate tariffs on trade between the 12 pacific rim countries that make up the TPP. This is that "Free Trade" thing we keep hearing about - basically it opens up trade barriers to make importing & exporting goods easier for corporations. This was a major aspect of NAFTA as well, so we know what the effects will be. Because the labor markets in countries like Mexico and Vietnam are so much cheaper than the US (and often lacking those pesky labor laws against child labor, human trafficking, and worker safety), corporations will move jobs overseas to avoid paying a "premium" for American workers. This will lead to higher unemployment in the US, and yet another shift from a manufacturing economy to the service economy (which means lower wages, no unions, and more job precariousness). When people are locked out of the legal economy, facing permanent underemployment and unemployment, they often engage in extra-legal economies in order to survive - leading to increased crime and incarceration. We are still reeling from this cycle of joblessness and incarceration that exploded after NAFTA - another wave of job losses would be devastating for our communities, especially working class communities of color. Eliminating these tariffs will also incentivize globalizing our food system, increasing US agricultural exports significantly and raising food prices in the US. This means increased use of climate-destroying and war-incentivizing fossil fuels for the packaging and shipping of food overseas, and less access to affordable healthy food for low-income people here. We need to localize our food system, not globalize it. Finally, the reduction of tariffs will increase fracked gas and other fossil fuel exports, opening the door for corporations to sell fracked gas to new markets, which will inevitably intensify the practice of fracking here in the US. Hydraulic fracking contaminates our water, pollutes our air, and speeds up climate change. We need to ban fracking, not create more opportunities for oil companies to profit from it.
  2. Massive deregulation of major industries, including the food industry. "Regulations" just means "laws corporations have to follow." While the government is happy to create more and more laws that the general public has to follow (allowing police to arrest/jail/kill Black people who forget to use a turn signal or sell untaxed cigaretteson the street corner), the Trans Pacific Partnership would wipe many laws that apply to corporations off the books entirely. This would allow food labels about ingredients to be challenged in court as "trade barriers," "buy local" programs to be banned as discriminatory - basically, under the TPP, corporations could sue governments for any regulations that might conceivably limit profits. Deregulating these industries prioritizes the profit of very few over the health and safety of everybody else. Remember, financial deregulation is what led to the crash of 2008 and the brutal recession that followed. Remember how bankers were bailed out and even received multi-million dollar bonuses while over 1 million American families lost their homes? Under the TPP, workers' rights and safety will be even further undermined in the relentless quest for bigger profits. Deregulation prioritizes the profit of very few over the health and safety of everybody else.
  3. Allow drug companies to monopolize medicines for up to 8 years. This is being referred to as the "death sentence" clause because it encourages pharmaceutical companies to engage in price gouging, making life saving medicines inaccessible to people who will die without them. Sick people can't wait for 8 years to get access to treatment. If this component of the TPP passes, people will die.

So, there you have it: the Trans Pacific Partnership is bad for our food system, bad for our health, bad for workers, and bad for the planet. It's critical that we build a massive mobilization to keep Congress from passing the TPP. In the coming months, get ready to write letters and make phone calls to your elected representatives in Washington to reject this trade agreement. Clearly, none of the negotiating parties of the TPP are advocating for us everyday folks. We have been excluded through every part of this process so far. We must stand up and advocate for ourselves, our communities, and our future.

I believe that we will win.

In Solidarity,

Nicole Deane