A New Year, a New Trade Deal, and New Opportunity for Food Security

by Amrietha Nellan

Watching New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world, starting with fireworks over the Sydney Harbor and ending with the ball dropping in Times Square, it reminds us that we are part of a global community and fosters a collective sense that the new year brings new possibilities. This year, the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could bring improved food security for millions of people around the world.

Although a range of factors impact food security, trade is a key piece. At the 2011 WTO Public Forum on food security, a senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute said, “free trade is necessary to achieve food security as food security is necessary to achieve free trade”. The truth of this maxim was demonstrated during the 2008 economic recession when countries took measures to protect their domestic agriculture market by limiting trade, causing a spike in food prices worldwide and pricing out those most in need. Trade agreements can play an important role in stabilizing and reducing food prices by restricting protectionist behavior, facilitating trade in food, and establishing reliable market access for consumers.

The TPP takes meaningful steps in this direction by cutting trade barriers in two ways: eliminating tariffs and overhauling the customs process so that trade is more efficient and transparent. The TPP cuts thousands of tariffs on agricultural goods traded between member countries, from staples like rice to high value goods like beef. And the deal’s customs chapter requires members to publish their customs laws, regulations, and procedures online, provide an advance ruling on customs valuations, and release exports within 48 hours of arrival. These provisions facilitate trade by making it easier for exporters to navigate the rules, minimize their customs duty, and prevent excessive delays in their products entering the market. These improvements can reduce the cost of goods by up to 24%, producing savings that give a direct benefit to consumers in all TPP countries, with significant impacts for the poorest, most food-insecure populations, like the three million American children who live on $2.00 a day, or the tens of millions of people in poverty throughout Vietnam and Peru.

Beyond reducing food prices and encouraging the flow of goods from net food surplus countries to net food deficit countries, the TPP also supports job growth across industries by increasing exports, building household income that translates to more nutritious food intake. Of course, this rising tide can only be enjoyed if the opportunity to participate is available to those most in need. Experts find that inclusive economic growth is necessary in order to share the gains of trade with those in extreme poverty. In the context of food security this involves a comprehensive economic plan that combines expanded trade with social policies targeted at improving the productivity of smallholder farmers and increasing women’s participation in the labor market. The TPP is the first trade agreement to address this issue.

The Development Chapter commits members to promote an “open trade and investment environment that seeks to improve welfare, reduce poverty, [and] raise living standards.” Recognizing the importance of inclusive economic growth, the TPP identifies key areas of development, such as expanding economic opportunities for women and investment in science and technology for agriculture productivity. Moreover, it creates a committee of experts dedicated to implementing the Development Chapter’s goals.

The TPP is an opportunity to make significant strides to expand opportunity and access to affordable food. It represents a new model for trade agreements with the potential to multiply its effect as more countries commit to liberalize their trade in food and focus on broad-based growth. With the TPP leading the way in 2016, we are one step closer to achieving greater food security for the world’s most vulnerable populations both here and abroad.