The Trans-Pacific Partnership


This post is a summary of the discussion participants had at MIllahcayotl’s September Sunday Brunch.

Two very important events took place on first day of 1994: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, made up of indigenous Mayan peasants, took up arms partially in response to the trade agreement. Both events had significant impact on the Bay Area which only became clear years later.

Across the continent, NAFTA has reshaped entire economic sectors like agriculture, which precipitated new rural mass migrations in Mexico as cheap American agricultural products flooded local markets. One such migration has deeply impacted the Bay Area, with over 25,000 Mayan immigrants – many of them previously subsistence indigenous farmers from Mexico and Central America – residing here today, many making their living in the food service industry.

Back home in Mexico, unhealthy diets are replacing millennial traditions. Consumption of maize products in Mexico has began to decline for the first time in history while foreign investment in Mexican food processing ballooned. Processed food sales grew 5 to 10 percent per year from 1995 to 2003. Nowhere is this more striking than in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverage which doubled in that time, with about 10% of Mexicans’ total energy intake now coming from these beverages. These changes go beyond simple market changes and point to a significant shift in access to basic needs.

Despite these concerns, free trade agreements aimed at reducing or eliminating trade restrictions like tariffs and quotas and stimulating international trade have become more common across the world. The proposed Trans Pacific-Partnership promises to continue the same trajectory. Worryingly, instead of only or mostly dealing with goods, it will included a large range of regulatory and legal issues, incorporating aspects of foreign policy and domestic lawmaking.

The impact is hard to exaggerate. TPP economies account for 40% of the world’s economy and 26% of world trade, but we know few details for sure due to the lack of public oversight with no draft agreement being publicly released despite hundreds of corporate advisers helping shape the final agreement.

Fears that a future TPP agreement will greatly impact agriculture are well founded, particularly for dairy, beef, sugar and rice. Dairy, a key sticking point in the negotiations, also exemplifies the concrete dietary and market changes that happen downstream from such agreements. Dairy exports from New Zealand, one of the founding TPP countries, represents more than 26% of all worldwide dairy exports. The TPP could open up Pacific Markets, particularly Asian countries where dairy is not traditionally consumed, leading to significant dietary changes. (This engineered shift of diets towards milk consumption will be covered more thoroughly at our December Sunday Brunch.)

To protect sovereignty of the people over our food systems and ensure access to healthy food, we believe that we should put our efforts to halt these sorts of opaque and harmful agreements. To learn more about the TPP and what you can do to stop it, visit the following websites: