The detailed implications of a trade agreement such as TTIP on food production are far reaching. Their real impact is thousands of kilometres from the shipping lanes that are being portrayed as the focus of the negotiations.
The Center for Food Safety has published a thoroughgoing review of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that is relevant to both sides of the Atlantic.
At the very heart of the corporate impatience to tear up national regulations and food safety rules is the scramble for control of distribution and supply chains. Where food is procured locally, local buying power can support diversity and reduce the distance food needs to travel, both now and in the post-fossil-fuel economy that may be with us sooner than we ever thought possible.
Despite a European Union commitment to local food, the Center for Food Safety warns that EU negotiators are trying to unpick US public procurement schemes under the Buy American Act.
“Leaked documents of the EU’s internal negotiating mandate reveal that it is seeking new rules on public procurement on all goods, in all sectors, and at all levels of the US government. EU documents specifically cite 13 US states and 23 cities that it is targeting for rolling back Buy Local policies. In particular, the EU seeks to ‘obtain exemptions from the rules under the Buy American Act.’” The reference emerged on page 59 of a collection of leaked non-papers issued last year to EU negotiators.
A “non-paper,” by the way, is a device that allows advisers to make unreasonable recommendations, however the document itself is not admissible as evidence in a tribunal or court of any description. It effectively circumvents any notion of accountability, since no-one can be held to account on the basis of what (s)he might ever write in a non-paper.
The value of shipping fresh food in either direction across the Atlantic for publicly-run schools or institutions is marginal. The leverage that such changes to procurement systems offer on both sides of the Atlantic are of immediate use, however, to transnational corporations hell-bent on kicking down the door to reach previously inaccessible market sectors.
This is about generating incremental business for mass market products. At the same time it will mean that local food producers will be stripped of crucial sales in an area that they could once legitimately regard as their own: their home patch. It also leaves a nagging doubt as to how seriously the EU negotiators will counter US threats to tear down geographic indications.