Starting to unpack the TPP, NAFTA and food sovereignty

By Allison Mountjoy
CAGJ’s Food Justice Project

I recently traveled to New Orleans for the first time and where did I find myself on the first day but the New Orleans food co-op. For my sister, who was traveling with me, it was not surprising when I spent thirty minutes looking through produce and taking pictures of their mission goals. Later we met up with a friend who works in New Orleans at a food hub. Naturally, the three of us spent a good chunk of time discussing what makes a good co-op, the merits of local food, and the designs for working city infrastructure.

Just two days later, and back in Seattle, I was sitting in a Food Justice Project meeting struggling to hold my own in a conversation about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and was struck by experience in New Orleans. Picture three middle-class, over-educated, white women sitting on a porch drinking Guinness, eating guacamole, and criticizing the only food co-op in one of America’s biggest food deserts for not having the buying and distribution power of a Whole Foods. There is something very challenging in that picture and it only got more challenging when I started researching the TPP back in Seattle.

Many of us (myself included) have strong beliefs about sustainable and equitable food systems but so much of what we all, as consumers, are confronted with as information is murky at best. I’m not exactly new to the conversation about the Trans-Pacific Partnership or Free Trade Agreements in general but I felt on such rocky ground trying to talk about it that night in Seattle. My knowledge of the TPP leaned heavily on comparisons to NAFTA. I have been on industrial and subsistence farms in Mexico and seen the results of NAFTA first hand in fields and grocery stores. So, it’s understandable that my first instinct on the TPP is to be wary, it is being called ‘NAFTA on steroids’ afterall. But what do I really know about the TPP?

Who has the most to gain? Importers, exporters, distributors, or farmers?

Why is most of the public information on this coming from WikiLeaks?

How will our food safety standards be upheld as the seafood import market is expected to increase?

If seafood becomes cheaper to import from the South Pacific how will this affect our more local fishermen, shellfish farmers, and economies?

How will this impact the livelihoods of South Pacific fishers, farmers and their families?

Trade agreements are supposed to increase economic welfare for both food producers and consumers, what should our recent experience with NAFTA teach us about this?

The three of us in New Orleans had the luxury of choosing, advocating for, and working on a sustainable food system. Agreements like NAFTA and possibly the TPP made it possible for us to sit on that porch and enjoy beer from Ireland and avocados from Mexico.  So I invite anyone reading this to ask the hard questions, the ones that sometimes make us uncomfortable or maybe challenge our lifestyles.

Somewhere to start:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/06/opinion/the-broken-promise-of-nafta.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/11/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-trans-pacific-partnership/

http://www.cagj.org/2012/11/10-reasons-why-food-justice-activists-should-care-about-the-tpp/#_ftn9

http://delauro.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=406:-delauro-food-safety-critical-issue-in-upcoming-trade-talks&catid=7:2011-press-releases&Itemid=23

Posted in Food Justice Blog Posts, Trade Justice Blog Posts.

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