The big meat corporations issued an ultimatum to Japan this summer: either drop different tariffs on all agriculture products or you should be kicked out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).1 The threat, coming from the dairy, pork, wheat and rice industries based in the U.S., represented the seriousness of what’s at stake for global agribusiness—and particularly the big meat corporations—in potentially the largest free trade agreement ever negotiated.
The TPP has been called "NAFTA on steroids" for good reason. It includes the NAFTA countries (U.S., Mexico and Canada), as well as nine other Pacific Rim countries (Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore). For global agribusiness, most with operations and connections in multiple TPP countries, the goal is simple: lower tariffs and weaken regulations that support farmers, consumers and rural communities in order to increase exports and imports. As the global meat and dairy trade grows—and the percentage of U.S. production for export rises—the ongoing TPP negotiations have become even more critical to these corporations’ bottom line.
TPP is also important for those trying to build more sustainable, locally based food and agricultural systems that work for farmers and consumers. Free trade agreements have a long history of increasing price volatility in agricultural markets and lowering consumer protections while increasing corporate concentration within sectors.2 Past free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)3 have undercut farmers and ranchers in all participating countries, while strengthening the market power of global agribusiness.
As growth in U.S. meat consumption has flattened or declined, much of the recent expansion in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in the U.S. is geared toward growing export markets. When combined with the voluminous feed demands for CAFOs (see this year’s record U.S. corn and soybean crop4), more and more agricultural land is being used to feed industrialized meat production—making it more difficult for independent producers targeting local markets to compete. The global meat industry has already used trade rules to attack very basic consumer rights like country of origin labeling of food.5 These corporations view TPP as an important opportunity to further undermine local, democratic control of agricultural systems, and expand their reach globally.
Remarkably, TPP continues to be negotiated in secret as if it were a private commercial agreement, with no effective means for the public to intervene in negotiations. And both the Obama Administration and many in Congress are pushing for fast track, which would allow the administration to complete the secret negotiations and then present the final deal to Congress for an up or down vote—no changes, no amendments. This undemocratic, secretive approach to trade policy is exactly what the global meat industry is banking on.