Trans Pacific Partnership: No More “Made In the USA”?


Trans Pacific Partnership: No More “Made In the USA”?

An essay in the Washington Times claims that that the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (the “TPP”), if ratified by Congress, would ban labeling products with their country of origin.  According to writer Judson Phillips:

Do you want to buy American? Forget about it. Under this deal, there can be no labeling to tell you a product is made in America.

Is this true?

Good Luck Making Sense of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement

The Trans Pacific Partnership agreement is over 2,000 pages long and contains numerous cross-references, defined terms, and the stilted language one expects from writing by committee.  Although presented in English, in a number of places it simply does not read like something written natively in that language.  Making matters worse, there is no easy way to find what’s in it.  The U.S. goverment, in publishing it on the Internet, has broken it down into numerous subsections.  Although the intention may have been to make the document more manageable, this approach necessitates a tedious process of section-by-section searching.  Moreover, using plain English search terms–say, “country of origin” or “labelling” or “label”–yields nothing.   But, although I could not find any provision expressly addressing country of origin labeling, it could be buried in arcane jargon.  The TPP is full of it.

But, even if the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement doesn’t expressly forbid country of origin labeling, precedent under similar trade agreements suggests that the writing may be on the wall.  Other countries have been taking the position that telling consumers that a product is made in America is an unfair trade practice, and, in international courts, they’re winning.

Country of Origin Labeling May Be History

Recently, as a result of complaints by Canada and Mexico, the World Trade Organization found that U.S.A-origin labelling on certain foods was an unfair trade practice, and authorized $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. beef and pork products as punishment.

The compliance panel found that the amended COOL measure violates Article 2.1 of the TBT Agreement because it accords to Canadian and Mexican livestock less favourable treatment than that accorded to like US livestock.

In response, and to avoid the staggering tariffs, the so-called omnibus “spending” bill passed by Congress at the end of 2015 changed U.S. law to prohibit country of origin designations on beef and pork products.  In another case, the WTO ruled that dolphin-safe tuna labelling rules violated the rights of Mexican fishermen, notwithstanding U.S. law (and policy) to the contrary.  If anyone suggests to you that these international agreements can’t override U.S. law, think again.

Against this backcloth, it wouldn’t be surprising if this kind of approach was extended to other products.  As recently reported:

“The [Trans Pacific Partnership] contains mechanisms that are similar” to the WTO’s trade dispute court, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). “We should expect similar challenges to our food and drug safety regulations, environmental protection and other consumer safeguards that will now be at risk of challenges.”

With the Trans Pacific Partnership expected to cover 40% of American imports and exports, we will no doubt experience shockwaves through the manufacturing sector both here and abroad.  Be prepared for a brave new world of labeling, at the very least.




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