When President Obama announced the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Thursday — and released them on Medium.com — there was a lot of talk about labor, the environment and manufacturing. But trade deals have a way of changing the way we eat, too.
Consider NAFTA, which boosted the availability of cheap avocados and winter tomatoes for Americans, while expanding Wal-Mart and processed food in Mexico. So now that we know the details of this new Pacific Rim trade deal, what might it mean for dinner — both in the U.S. and the 11 other nations party to the treaty? Herewith, a cheat sheet on the 2,000-plus-page deal:
Supporters of the TPP highlight the fact that the chapter on food safety and inspections will bring other countries up to U.S. standards, and set rapid deadlines for resolving disputes over rejected shipments. Critics say the agreement gives countries new power to challenge food safety laws, which could be framed as "barriers to trade."
"It's hard right now for inspectors to make sure everything is safe," said Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of trade, technology and global governance for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Currently, about 2 percent of food imported to the U.S. is inspected. With more imports coming in, pressure to resolve disputes quickly, and no mandate for more regulatory staff, says Hansen-Kuhn, it's unlikely that inspections will improve.
Since rules on genetically modified foods differ from country to country, the agreement's market access chapter includes a section on "products of biotechnology" — think engineered corn and soy — and sets up a protocol for importing countries to decide on product safety. It also establishes a working group for the topic, suggesting that there's plenty more to be worked out.
Dairy, Meat And Booze
The TPP does away with more than 18,000 tariffs in the countries party to the deal. American producers will gain access to new markets — and foreign producers will get access to ours. That includes a lot of food, much of which could become cheaper here, as low-cost imports intensify competition on price.