White rice

What’s the deal with CPTPP and why does it matter to the food you eat?

Basically, what you need to know about the controversial trade agreement—and how it may affect Thailand's food resource

Phavitch Theeraphong
Written by
Phavitch Theeraphong

Aside from COVID-19, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is one issue that has been taking over local media coverages and public conversation for weeks. The Thai government is pushing the country to join the global trade agreement, proposing it as one strategy to boost the local economy and offset the negative impact brought about by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Deputy Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and many other ministers support Thailand’s participation, but a considerable amount of central figures in both the government and opposition parties, as well as the private sector, are against it, saying that the CPTPP will have unfavorable effects on the Thai agricultural and pharmaceutical sectors, amongst many others.  

There’s a lot of fuss circulating CPTPP so we’ve listed down the facts; basically what you need to know about the controversial trade agreement—and how it may affect the food you eat.

What’s CPTPP?

The trade agreement was once known as the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), initiated in the US in 2015 during the term of former president Barack Obama to form strategic ties with 11 other countries in the Pacific Rim. TPP aimed to become the world’s largest free trade deal, with the provision to eliminate tariffs and trade barriers among participating nations, promote foreign investment among member states, and strengthen intellectual property on certain goods such as agricultural products and medication. But the US withdrew from the agreement when Donald Trump came into power. The remaining member nations then set up a new trade agreement called CPTPP in March 2018, maintaining previously set provisions.

Which countries are included in the agreement?

Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

How would the deal benefit Thailand?

Participation in the CPTPP can provide Thailand with new markets for export such as Canada and Mexico. Citing research conducted by consulting firm Bolliger & Company, Auramon Supthaweethum, director general of the Department of Trade Negotiations, said that Thailand’s GDP would see an increase of 0.12 percent as export and investment opportunities accelerate. The deal could also improve Thailand’s productivity and provide the creation of job as it recovers from the impacts of COVID-19. However, failing to participate in the trade bloc could result in a loss of 0.25 percent in GDP.

Why are some people against it? 

Many critics argue that the CPTPP's negative effects outweigh its benefits. Anutin Charnvirakul, the Minister of Public Health, fears that it may limit Thais’ access to affordable medicine, while leader of the Move Forward party Pita Limjaroenrat insists that the move would only benefit large conglomerates and not the public good. Civil society groups FTA Watch and Biothai have launched online campaigns against Thailand joining the CPTPP, saying that the agreement will put Thai farmers at a disadvantage. Their argument revolves around one of the most significant implications of the trade agreement, one that revolves around the effects the partnership will have on the food security of Thailand and on the use of, well, seeds.  

How might CPTPP affect the food you eat?

If Thailand becomes a member of the CPTPP, then it will have to revise its laws to align with UPOV 91 or the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention, the latest revision of the International Convention For The Protection Of New Varieties Of Plants. UPOV 91 grants big companies or institutions property rights over seeds and new plant varieties. If farmers want to plant a certain seed, then they would have to buy it from a certified seller every season or pay a fee or royalty for keeping seeds for continued use in later seasons. In some countries, farmers can reproduce and keep certain seed varieties for the next season, but only for use on their own farms and only for certain crops. Otherwise, replanting the seeds from a previous season without permission could result in punishment.

Bo Songvisava, chef/owner of Bo.lan, who has explicitly voiced her position against CPTPP, says that this will allow powerful corporations to reap profit without having to share them with the original source of the plant breeds. Biothai, on their end, speculates that joining CPTPP and an alignment with UPOV 91 could render the price of seeds six to 12 times more expensive, which can, in turn, increase the price of local food and produce.

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