Details of the long-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership are public at last: it will undermine the safety of our food supply, make medicine more expensive, and give power to the biotech monopoly. Action Alert!
A few weeks ago, the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal was finally released after many years of closed-door negotiations between officials from the US and eleven other countries, all of whom border the Pacific Ocean. Its provisions were apparently kept secret from all but the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
Leaked documents during the trade negotiations provided reason to be concerned about the final agreement. And now, a review of the deal’s twenty-nine chapters and five thousand pages proves these early concerns were completely justified. The final package now awaits a vote in Congress, which is likely to take place in Spring 2016.
Here are some of the most pressing concerns for natural health advocates:
It Undermines the Safety of the Food Supply
The TPP contains a number of provisions that threaten current food safety laws.
Generally speaking, passage of the TPP would mean that any US food safety law concerning things like pesticides, food additives, or labeling that is more stringent than “international standards” may be considered an “illegal barrier” to trade, and subject to enforcement. We have learned to beware of such “international standards.” They are largely determined by global special interests.
The TPP expands corporate power in other ways. The deal includes an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system in which multinational corporations can challenge a host company’s regulations in an international court. ISDS has been a fixture in other trade treaties, including NAFTA (the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement), and has been used to challenge countries’ economic policies, anti-smoking efforts, and environmental preservation laws. It is another giveaway to Big Food and other powerful multinational interests—a recurring theme throughout the TPP document.
The trade agreement also undercuts US efforts to inspect food imports. The agreement limits food import inspections at the border “to what is reasonable and necessary,” and if an issue arises, a country must also provide an “opportunity for a review of the decision.” This provision, referred to as the Rapid Response Mechanism, may give exporting countries the right to challenge basic food safety provisions in the US.
It Gives New Patent Protections to Big Pharma
The TPP contains an entire chapter on intellectual property rights, with many provisions relating to pharmaceutical patents. No doubt heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, the trade deal will force signatory countries to accept many of the same patent laws that have kept drug prices so astronomically high in the US.
The deal would extend and broaden certain patent and data protections for the pharmaceutical industry, which Big Pharma can then use to keep prices high and delay competition from generics. It is a wonderful gift to the pharmaceutical industry—but a grave loss to patients in developing countries looking for access to affordable drugs.
The TPP also allows a practice known as “evergreening,” which lets drug companies extend a patent on an old drug when it can be used to treat a new condition—another boon for Big Pharma’s monopoly power.
Even when Big Pharma loses in the TPP, it wins. One of the more controversial topics in TPP negotiations concerned patent and data protections for biologic drugs—medicines derived not from inert chemical compounds but from living organisms. Big Pharma wanted twelve years of exclusivity— they already have this in the US—and US trade officials pushed hard in the negotiations to make this the standard. Instead, the deal grants them at least five years of exclusivity and as much as eight.
It’s Also a Gift to Biotech Seed Companies
Finally, the TPP deal expands biotech’s monopoly over the seed industry. The deal requires all twelve countries to join a number of global intellectual property treaties. One of these treaties is the 1991 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV91), which emphasizes the rights of seed companies over farmers. Among other things, UPOV91:
- Requires intellectual property (IP) protection for all plant species;
- Provides IP protection for 20 to 25 years; and
- Stops farmers from exchanging seeds—a common and important practice in many developing nations and indeed throughout human history.
In countries that have not already turned agriculture over to the biotech industry, this could mean a substantial rewrite of regulations meant to protect farmers.
Other treaties that signatory countries are compelled to join make it easier to apply for patents—making it very likely that more plants and seeds will be patented.
If these gifts to industry were not enough, President Obama moved earlier this summer to have the deal “fast-tracked”—that is, Congress will be given a fixed period to review the agreement, after which time legislators must make a yes/no vote without the possibility of amending the deal. Essentially, it’s “take it or leave it.”
We say: leave it. And if the US does reject it, do not worry about losing the reduction of tariffs that is already included. There will just be a second (and, we hope, a better) version to replace it.
Action Alert! Write to your members of Congress and urge them to oppose the TPP deal, which undermines consumers and farmers and extends monopoly rights to major industries. Please send your message immediately.
Other articles in this week’s Pulse of Natural Health: