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Coordination on agriculture policy could undermine developing country interests.

U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman at the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2015 in Nairobi Kenya

Used under creative commons license from world_trade_organization

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part five in a five part series.

Both the U.S. and EU have stated their intention for TTIP to be the “gold standard” for other agreements. This could mean that rules set in TTIP could become the default position at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other trade talks. Early in the TTIP talks, the U.S. proposed a special chapter that would encourage the EU and U.S. to work together to eliminate “localization barriers to trade”—measures that favor local content or preferences for local businesses—used by other countries not party to TTIP. It’s not clear if that idea ever saw the light of day, but now, the EU is proposing a chapter on Agriculture that could also serve to unite pressure on developing countries to conform to EU and U.S. proposals.

The EU has proposed an Agriculture chapter in TTIP, something not included in previous bilateral or plurilateral agreements the U.S. has negotiated. It proposes disciplines on agricultural-export credits along the lines agreed to at the Nairobi WTO meeting in December 2015, as well as other changes to subsidies and food aid programs. While progress on those issues could be helpful, these kinds of commitments in TTIP could also be used to ensure that the U.S. and EU present a united front on other issues that have been controversial in global trade talks and overwhelm developing country concerns.

The EU State of Play memo from March notes that, “As regards export competition, the U.S. is opposed to the inclusion of any discipline in TTIP that would go beyond the Nairobi outcome. It pointed to a non-binding language in TPP that resisted calls from [other TPP] members to undertake specific commitments. The U.S. proposed adding to the TTIP the language on export restrictions agreed in TPP and committed to propose an alternative language on cooperation in agriculture.”

The TPP went beyond establishing disciplines on export restrictions to also limit developing countries’ ability to shield sensitive agricultural markets from imports. Article 2.26 of TPP on Agricultural Safeguards eliminates the Parties’ rights under the WTO to apply special tariffs in the event of import surges. This issue, as well as establishing developing countries’ rights to exempt key agricultural goods from trade liberalization in order to ensure food security and rural development, has been a key point of contention in the WTO talks. The inclusion of these issues in TTIP would likely mean that two of the world’s largest economies would work together in future multilateral trade talks in ways that override the interests of smaller economies.


Many of the issues included in the TTIP drafts go far beyond anything negotiated in previous trade deals. They could affect a broad range of national and local efforts to rebuild food systems on both sides of the Atlantic and entrench corporate interests in decision-making processes on chemical, health, consumer safety and environmental standards. And yet the exact nature of these proposals remain shrouded in secrecy. Full public debates on the content of TTIP should be based on current information and transparent processes at every step along the way, rather than periodic leaks of incomplete bits of text. Only then would it be possible to envision an agreement that serves to advance progress on fair and sustainable economies and food systems.

Read the other parts of this blog series:
Part 1: Secret science would help streamline biotech and other food product approvals
Part 2: Local governments could be required to abandon buy-local requirements
Part 3: Tariff reductions could disrupt local farming systems
Part 4: Proposals on regulatory cooperation would lower standards

The complete document is available at Five Key Takeaways from the TTIP Leak for Food Systems.  

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