Trade poses risks and opportunities to health equity. A particular concern exists for public health nutrition in light of ongoing high rates of under-nutrition and explosive increases in overweight and obese individuals. This study, funded by the Australian Research Council and based out of the Australian National University, explores the implications for food security and health equity of a radical new kind of trade agreement: the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Under negotiation since 2010, the TPPA involves Australia, Japan, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA, and Vietnam.

Existing international evidence on the relationships between trade agreements and diet-related health and leaked text from the TPPA negotiations suggest that this agreement would propose tariffs reductions, foreign investment liberalization and intellectual property protection that extend beyond provisions in the multilateral World Trade Organization agreements. The TPPA is also likely to include proposals to provide strong investor protections, which would introduce sweeping changes to domestic regulatory regimes to enable greater industry involvement in policy making and new avenues for appeal.

Because the text of the TPPA is secret until the countries involved commit to the agreement, it is essential for public health concerns to be articulated during the negotiation process. Unless the potential health consequences of each part of the text are fully examined and taken into account, and binding language is incorporated in the TPPA to safeguard regulatory policy space for health, the TPPA is likely to be detrimental to public health nutrition. Health advocates and health-related policymakers must be proactive in their engagement with the trade negotiations.