TPP & Food Safety
By: Steve Craven
Hawaii exports more than $400 million worth of agricultural or food products every year (2014 data). That’s everything from seed corn and papaya to flowers, coffee and chocolate-covered mac nuts. The majority of our agricultural exports comes from the Neighbor Islands, not from urban Honolulu. So the state has a strong interest in anything in the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement that helps or hurts its ag exports.
You won’t be surprised that the TPP says plenty about food exports. There’s a chapter of TPP called “Sanitary & Phytosanitary Measures”, which sounds like it might be related to health inspections. The inspections the chapter speaks to are the food safety inspections that are routinely done when such products cross national borders. There is a lengthy body of law about such inspections in the World Trade Organization and other international bodies, but the TPP tightens things up for the participating countries. And the tightening comes largely at the insistence of the United States, so that international rules come closer to matching our own domestic food safety rules.
The driving force of the TPP food safety rules is that all such rules and associated inspections must be science-based. Gone, we hope, are the days when national preference and whim played a role in what could cross borders. There was a time – hard to believe – when Japan, for instance, blocked imports of American rice, saying that our rice wasn’t suitable for Japanese tummies. The TPP codifies the use of modern science-based evidence in food safety standards. The goal is to focus food inspections on clear and direct threats to food safety and health while minimizing tests of products that have already been proven to meet international standards. It strives to ensure that food standards and tests are concocted and implemented in a transparent, predictable and non-discriminatory manner, and that new standards will be subject to public scrutiny and comments. That said, nothing in the TPP would allow untested, unsafe products to make it past the border. And no TPP member is being asked to give up its right to protect its citizens.
The new TPP rules largely mirror existing U.S. procedures, so Hawaii’s food product exporters should find any new rules easier to deal with when selling in other TPP markets. Any food safety rules must conform to relevant international standards or be based on documented, objective scientific evidence. No arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination is to be allowed among the TPP member states.
Some TPP members who do not already have open procedures will be required to establish transparent processes for the public, including foreign producers, to comment on proposed food safety rules. Where tests of imported products are required, the TPP ensures that authorities focus on testing shipments that have some actual potential risk for consumers. Due to shelf-life issues for many food products, importers and exporters should be told within seven days if a shipment is being prohibited or restricted from entry.
Emergencies do happen, so the TPP still allows countries to take emergency measures if needed to protect food safety and human, animal and plant health. They will, however, be required to disclose the scientific basis for such emergency actions.
All in all, Hawaii’s food product exporters should find it easier to deal with foreign bureaucracies once TPP is fully implemented.
Steve Craven advises companies on international business strategies and how to overcome problems encountered in foreign markets. He is a former consultant, American diplomat and a U.S. trade negotiator. He served as a Career Diplomat and Senior Foreign Service Officer, member of the U.S. Commercial Service, U.S. Department of Commerce. Mr. Craven also previously served as Chair of the Hawaii Pacific Export Council.