Food First Backgrounder Vol. 19 No. 2, Summer 2013

By Anders Riel Muller, Ayumi Kinezuka and Tanya Kerssen

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), perhaps the world’s most ambitious free trade agreement, is currently under negotiation. What began as a small regional free trade agreement has become one of the primary tools in the United States’ geopolitical pivot towards the Asia-Pacific region. The agreement—negotiated in secrecy—will dramatically expand the rights of corporations over those of food producers, consumers, workers and the environment. This Backgrounder outlines the agreement’s assault on democracy and food sovereignty and examines the TPP’s likely impacts on food and agriculture in Japan, the latest country to join negotiations.

What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) began as a trade agreement signed in 2005 between Brunei, New Zealand, Chile and Singapore. Since then, seven more countries came on board: Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, the United States and, most recently, Japan. For the time being, South Korea is not participating, despite pressure from Washington.1 With Japan’s entry, TPP countries account for nearly 40 percent of global economic output and about a third of world trade. The TPP’s “docking mechanism” would also enable other countries to join the agreement in the future.

The negotiating partners seek to reach an agreement in time for the October 2013 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)2 summit in Indonesia—though this is highly unlikely to be achieved after Japan’s entry. Considered the most ambitious Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the world, partners hope the TPP will set the agenda for future World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations. For the United States, the agreement represents an expansion and deepening of its 19 existing bilateral and regional FTAs and a strengthening of US influence in the Asia-Pacific region.3 Over 60 percent of US trade is with APEC member nations, and 34 percent is with TPP partners. The US is particularly interested in accessing markets in TPP countries for its agricultural products and financial services including banking and insurance; streamlining and enforcing intellectual property rights; and placing limits on state-owned enterprises. As the most powerful US ally in East Asia, Japan’s participation further strengthens US interest in the TPP. While there is no existing USJapan FTA, trade with Japan already accounts for 6% of total US goods trade and 7% of total US services trade in 2011.

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