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Trans Pacific Partnership puts member countries' health at risk

International trade agreements bring new transnational food companies into countries, along with new food advertising and promotion. This has often led to an increase in unhealthy foods entering the domestic…

A Trans Pacific Partnership meeting hosted by US President Barack Obama with the Sultan of Brunei and prime ministers from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia , Singapore and Vietnam, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on November 20, 2012. AAP Image/Auspic, David Foote

International trade agreements bring new transnational food companies into countries, along with new food advertising and promotion.

This has often led to an increase in unhealthy foods entering the domestic market. But an agreement currently being negotiated could go even further and increase the influence of the food industry on domestic regulatory regimes and policies.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been under negotiation since 2010, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. (Japan has recently joined the negotiating table but China is notably absent.)

More than any other trade agreement, the TPP is focused on economic integration, investment and the rights of investors, which, for the most part, are international corporations.

Opening up domestic markets influences national diets by altering the availability, quality, price and desirability of foods. And that raises concerns about under-nutrition, obesity and chronic diseases.

There is concern the TPP will invoke the same risks to nutrition and health as existing multilateral and free trade agreements – through tariff reductions, encouragement of foreign investment and enhanced intellectual property rights for corporations.

On the face if it, reductions in barriers to trade should increase consumer food choices and improve supply for net-food importing countries. But trade liberalisation through multilateral and free-trade agreements has traditionally resulted in disproportionately large increases in imports and domestic production of foods that are high in saturated fat, highly processed, calorie-rich and nutrient-poor.

In a number of the Pacific Island nations, for instance, multilateral and regional trade agreements have undermined domestic agriculture and created a strong reliance on imports. This has led to high levels of fat consumption through cheap imports of margarine, butter, meat, chickens and canned meat.

The Central America-USA Free Trade Agreement has promoted greater availability of highly processed foods in Central American countries, by facilitating more imports. And similar trends have been observed with the lowering of trade barriers between Mexico and the United States following the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Indeed, research has demonstrated that greater foreign direct investment through trade agreements with the United States significantly increases the consumption of soft drinks within the signatory country, magnifying the risk of chronic diseases.

The TPP may go even further by giving companies more power than other agreements. The Australian government has noted “the TPP is more than a traditional trade agreement; it will also deal with behind-the-border impediments to trade and investment.” The way in which these behind-the-border impediments to trade and investment will be addressed could create significant risks for a healthy food supply.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is likely to provide stronger investor protections and enable greater (food) industry involvement in policy-making. It could lead to sweeping changes to domestic regulatory systems, and open up new opportunities for companies to appeal against domestic policies they consider to be a violation of their privileges under the agreement.

Together, these changes would weaken the ability for governments to protect public health by, for example, limiting imports and domestic manufacturing of unhealthy foods and drinks.

At the 15th round of negotiations in Auckland last December, the Malaysian government - supported by the United States - reportedly suggested restricting the amount of information food companies would be required to provide about ingredients and formulae of processed food products.

These sorts of proposals raise concerns about consumer access to information about food products, as well as the ability of governments to regulate food labelling on public health grounds. Measures like that one will undermine health policy goals and extend the control of the food industry over domestic policy.

Re-balancing food industry influence in the negotiation process with input from the health sector is vital.

Public health advocates and health policymakers must engage with trade negotiations to preserve policy space for public health goals before the window of opportunity closes.

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17 Comments sorted by

  1. Joseph Bernard


    Hmm, so forget about my right to proper food labeling.

    so pull down your pants down to gmo foods and learn how to swallow hard!

  2. robert roeder
    robert roeder is a Friend of The Conversation.


    The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement was negotiated in secret behind closed doors, we the people have not been allowed to see the draft document.The next round of negotiations is October 13. At the last round December 12 NZ baulked over agricultural issues.
    People will remember the Free Trade Agreement that Mark Vaile ( Nationals Leader ) signed between Australia and the US were the bush got sold out well, image that on super steroids. This agreement could introduce several new intellectual property…

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  3. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    What will the 'public health advocates and health policymakers' do if they get involved? Do they aim to ban or tax certain foods?

    1. robert roeder
      robert roeder is a Friend of The Conversation.


      In reply to James Jenkin

      James, there are provisions in this agreement which would allow corporations to sue governments for loss of revenue through enacted legislation.
      A quote might sum up my view, " In times of universal deceit, tell the truth is a revolutionary act" George Orwell ". In the US the revolutionarys are already feeling the heat.

    2. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to robert roeder

      Yes I see Robert. So - assuming the author wants to stop the agreement going ahead in its current form - how exactly would the health advocates like to change it? To limit the amount of soft drink entering the country, for example?

    3. Joseph Bernard


      In reply to James Jenkin

      As long as the soft drinks are properly labeled then to each their own. If health warnings needs to be added to labeling then we should have the right to do so!

      If GMO labeling is allowed then to each their own..

      Interesting to see what happens to generic drugs which some drug companies hate because it means they can not milk our pockets dry..

    4. robert roeder
      robert roeder is a Friend of The Conversation.


      In reply to James Jenkin

      That would be difficult.The LNP fully support the US labor sometimes acts in we the peoples interest but the truth is that both are toadys to US directions. Two things I considered were JG swooned over Obama and gave up more sovereign land which allows for 2000 marines to rotate hear. After the defeat of a couple of bills on internet security and spying like CISPA the US secretary of State Hillary Clinton came hear to huddle with JG and the new Attorney General Nicola Roxon were I suppose they received…

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    5. greg rzesniowiecki

      being and doing

      In reply to James Jenkin

      The way to arrest its regressive components is to ditch the whole thing.
      Question; Will trade stop without a TPPA?
      Answer; No!
      Best to put it and the Global Corporations who are plugging it under no illusion. 'We are not for sale'.
      It's not just food health issues, pharma, and a host of other areas including open internet are at stake.
      Corporate banks are an example of corporate beneficence.. read Matt Taibi's 'Griftopia' to get a feel for the weird place that is the USA political scene.
      USA interest is Corporate interest, not human interest.

    6. greg rzesniowiecki

      being and doing

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      So hypothesis..

      I'm an organic farmer doing my own thing.. the dude next door grows GMO say rape or corn.. his (oops sorry Monsanto's, his leased pollen) pollen affects through pollination my organic crop..

      what redress do I have? each to their own.. do I burn his crop to avert disaster?

      The current law situation plays out to favour Monsanto who can seek redress from me for utilizing their product and intellectual property despite my earnest strivings to avoid this very situation.

      The TPPA will enable the spread of GMOs as contemporary farming economics armed with Monsanto's ruthless litigation will eventually overwhelm traditional seed sources as they have in the USA..

      That's why the TPPA is looking for Investment Tribunals run by the Corps and without regard to National Sovereignty nor democratic objects developed by the citizenry.

  4. Janeen Harris


    Strange that the policy makers make policies that will ultimately make their own jobs harder. We can't afford adequate health services, lets encourage poor health through poor diet. The blind lead the blind.

  5. Tony Simons

    Director at Bedlam Bay Pty Ltd

    Australia should definitely not sign up to this terrible scheme which is being driven by some very rapacious corporations with very big lobbying budgets. Howard signed up to the terrible US "Free Trade" agreement largely to wedge the ALP and Vaile actually wanted to walk away. 18 years before Aussie beef could enter the US plus sugar and other food products is a complete joke. Why is close ally, the Philippines not going to be in the TPPA and also Indonesia.

  6. Angie Bucu

    logged in via Facebook

    With all we know about poor health and wellbeing effects of processed (usually imported) and nutritionless food, with all that is being undertaken world wide to bring us better labeling laws to allow for consumer choice, with all the knowledge we have about the association of foods such as that being discussed here on increasing health costs, how are these giant food companies allowed to play such a prominent role in causing law makers and diplomats to make these agreements. These food giants are ONLY interested in the bottom line for the benefit of shareholders, they have no concern for the health effects of their products on local communities, or that they destroy local food industries. What is the fix here? Do people like the authors of this article and the health industry need to get involved in lobbying, because this is all about who has the loudest voice and the most money....all in the name of economics!!

  7. Lisa Hodgson


    Curious about the photo caption that leaves out the presence of the PM of Australia JG?

    The TPPA is not a trade agreement, it is a direct attack on democracy. The very ideal that the US enforces on other countries yet once countries adopt a democratic system the corporatocracy that is the US stands roughshod over them in the name of trade. Wikileaks has shown us that the only brief US *ambassadors have is to push US corporations into other countries markets. They have fought untold wars claiming…

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    1. Reema Rattan

      Health + Medicine Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      Oops. There was a technical glitch and I must have forgot when I re-did it. Fixed shortly.

      Thanks for pointing it out.

  8. Tim Conway

    logged in via Twitter

    I'm no fan of the TPPA, but for many reasons APART from those advanced in this article. The logic therein suggests that trade barriers should be maintained -- or perhaps even increased(!) -- in order to preserve the "life-enhancing" attributes of dirty water and subsistence agriculture.

    1. greg rzesniowiecki

      being and doing

      In reply to Tim Conway

      Who's going to miss out on these benefits you allude to if the TPPA doesn't go ahead? And balanced against the dis-benefit of TPPA clearly stated in the article and supported by most commentators..

      TPPA is dirty water man, perhaps you need to have a sip now so as to get adjusted to the rotten taste destined to come with your lack of foresight.