Trans Pacific Partnership draft environment section creates uproar among US environmental groups

The environmental impact of freer trade has been a contentious issue since pre-NAFTA times. Despite several efforts, no organization has yet published a convincing analysis, in significant part because so many pressures impact on environmental quality that the effects of freer trade cannot be separated from all of the other pressures that lead to environmental degradation or improvement. Concerns over this issue have led to environmental agreements being linked to freer trade agreements in almost every situation for the last 20 years. In past trade negotiations Canada’s government would seek advice from various sectors of society on the implementation of  these environmental agreements. Today all trade-related negotiations happen in secret without any obvious consultation process.

Hence a leak of the draft environment section of the Trans Pacific Partnership attracts much attention from those organizations who are concerned about such matters. Major US environmental groups have panned the draft environment section of the TPP that WikiLeaks has recently published. Natural Resources Defence Council has described it as unacceptable; Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club in the US, is quoted as saying “If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama’s environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush’s”; and  Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund in the US, said “The lack of fully-enforceable environmental safeguards means negotiators are allowing a unique opportunity to protect wildlife and support legal sustainable trade of renewable resources to slip through their fingers”.

How much the section will be amended is unknown but some participants in the talks have indicated that the TPP is nearly finished and that completion of negotiations can be expected in 2015. Hence environmental groups and anti free trade activists are gearing up for a battle on the TPP’s environmental provisions. On the other hand, apparently in response to some of the expressed concerns, the Office of the United States Trade Representative has issued a statement which starts by stating

The United States’ position on the environment in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is this: environmental stewardship is a core American value, and we will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement.

The USTR statement also includes:

It’s true that U.S. negotiators are fighting alone on some of these issues – but that’s exactly what they’re doing: pressing harder, not retreating.

In December the trade ministers of the 12 TPP countries met for three days to tackle tough issues together, including in the environment chapter. There, the United States reiterated our bedrock position on enforceability of the entire environment chapter, as well as our strong commitments to provisions such as those combating wildlife trafficking and illegal logging.

The entire TPP negotiation, including on the environmental chapter, is ongoing. We will continue to work with Congress and with our stakeholders in the environmental community, as we have from day one, for the strongest possible outcome. Together, we can continue to call on TPP partners to join us in achieving the high environmental standards being proposed and advocated by the United States.

GallonDaily anticipates that the WikiLeaks documents will start a much more robust discussion of trade and environment in general and the TPP and the environment more specifically.

The documents released by WikiLeaks – the draft environment chapter of the TPP along with a november 2013 Environment Chairs report which summarizes the environmental positions of the TPP negotiators – and WikiLeaks own analysis, can be found at https://wikileaks.org/tpp-enviro/

The statement from US World Wildlife Fund is at http://worldwildlife.org/press-releases/green-groups-leaked-trans-pacific-partnership-environment-chapter-unacceptable.

The statement from the office of the United States Trade Representative in apparent response to the WikiLeaks documents is at http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/blog/2014/January/The-US-and-Environmental-Protections-in-the-TPP

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