TACD’s recommendations on the proposed food safety chapter in TTIP

Last November the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a trade and investment agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries of the Pacific Rim was published. Finally, there is a proxy for the U.S. position in the TTIP negotiations on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), i.e. the food safety and animal and plant health rules and enforcement practices that must protect consumers. Since the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) prohibits release of its draft TTIP negotiating positions to the public, we are forced to use the TPP SPS chapter as a next best alternative for constructing a ‘dialogue’ between the negotiating proposals of the European Commission and the SPS chapter that the USTR is likely to propose for the TTIP. Our initial analysis of the texts and the institutional capacity of governments to enforce the texts to protect consumers leads to several recommendations, including the following:

– The TPP SPS chapter includes a provision in the market access chapter to allow import of unapproved genetically modified organisms. There must be no such provision either in the TTIP SPS chapter or market access chapter. Regulatory approval of plant and animal agricultural products produced by a new generation of modification techniques, such as gene drives, could result in trade of undefined “low level presence” of synthetically modified organisms that could establish themselves as invasive species in the importing country.

– The TPP includes a low standard definition for scientific data to be used in SPS risk assessments: “reasonably available and relevant scientific data.” Adopting this low standard would allow trade in food and agricultural products whose risk assessments hide data affecting consumer health from scientific peer review by claiming such data as Confidential Business Information (CBI). TTIP must not adopt such a low standard for use of scientific data. According to the “reasonably available” standard, governments could claim that CBI data and unpublished corporate studies in commercialization applications were “science-based” but not “reasonably available” for independent peer review.

– The USTR should agree to the European Commission proposal to require adequate resources to implement the chapter and thus comply with the commitment to provide the “appropriate level of sanitary and phytosanitary protection.” Negotiators should add a provision that would require the side that failed to provide such resources to sue the other government in order to force provision of adequate resources to protect consumer, plant and animal health and welfare. Such a sub-paragraph would provide consumers with confidence that governments under austerity budget pressures would not underfund implementation and enforcement of SPS rules to expedite trade.

– The Commission’s proposed SPS chapter would make it optional for governments to publish the results of audits of government SPS systems and food export facilities to ensure their capacity to implement and enforce the chapter. TACD recommends that such audits results must be published in order to enable their independent third-party verification.

– The international food and agriculture industry have won in the Commission proposal a provision to allow “pre-cleared” products to enter importing countries without port of entry inspection or testing. TACD recommends that the SPS chapter should explicitly exclude from pre-clearance microbiologically high risk imports, such as meat and seafood products.

– Abuse of food-producing animals imperils animal health and the resulting safety of food produced from such animals. Yet the animal welfare provisions proposed by the Commission are not binding and unenforceable. TACD recommends that the U.S. and the EU collaborate at the World Animal Health Organization to negotiate a binding Code of Ethics in Animal Welfare that would apply to all governments that trade in products derived from terrestrial and aquatic animals.

There is much more to say about the evolving TTIP SPS chapter, but TACD believes that this resolution is a well-informed basis for dialogue with governments.

TACD will present its policy position on the proposed SPS chapter at the European Commission’s TTIP Stakeholder Presentation Event on Wednesday, 24 February 2016 as of 12.20 pm.

Read the EU textual proposal for a SPS chapter in TTIP and the full TACD policy statement and analysis of the TTIP SPS chapter.