New Fact Sheet on NAFTA 2.0, Junk Food Labeling and Public Health

Cereal boxes with cartoon characters

Photo by Colleen Borgendale

The Trump administration is trying to wrap up the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) this month. With 30 chapters of secret text and closed-door negotiations—and more than 500 corporate advisers with preferential access to negotiators—the final agreement could be as objectionable as the roundly criticized Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). According to public reports, the text of the TPP was the starting point for many of the “modernized” NAFTA chapters – with industry advisers calling for even more extreme corporate protections.

While the texts remain secret, we know that the junk food industry has pushed hard for, and the U.S. government is receptive to, new provisions in NAFTA that could derail stepped-up efforts in all three NAFTA countries to tackle the obesity crisis and improve nutrition. We explore these issues in a new fact sheet: Junk Food, Junk Provisions: NAFTA 2.0, Junk Food Labeling and Public Health.

Public statements by negotiators, industry submissions outlining their priorities and preferred outcomes, and U.S. Trade Representative actions and reports all point to the conclusion that NAFTA 2.0 could include several provisions aimed at preventing Canada, Mexico and the U.S. from adopting rules on conveying nutrition and product information about junk food to consumers:

  • First, a U.S. proposal is known to be under consideration that would restrict or prohibit mandatory warning symbols on foods and beverages high in fat, salt, calories or sugar.
  • Second, negotiators from the three countries reportedly have agreed to a provision similar to one in the TPP that aims to keep secret details about food additives used in prepackaged foods.
  • Third, the junk food industry is pushing for new provisions to prevent governments from limiting advertising aimed at children, such as bans on cartoon characters on boxes of sugary cereals.

The junk food industry is invoking a tried and true strategy, following in the footsteps of the tobacco industry which for years effectively used trade agreements to block labeling and advertising rules. Even though Canada’s top NAFTA negotiator has said he won’t agree to the U.S. anti-labeling text, his informal comments were made only after the U.S. demands were widely publicized and attacked by consumer groups. Despite strong opposition to the proposed anti-labeling text, including letters from leading consumer, food and public health organizations requesting that the U.S. back away from the labeling policy, the USTR has not publicly stated that it will do so. In response to a letter signed by IATP, USTR unsatisfactorily stated “we will review your concerns in detail.”

What else is buried in this agreement? Congress and the public need to demand transparency and accountability from the USTR and President Trump, and make sure that the renegotiated NAFTA isn’t even worse than what came before.