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Environmental Groups Supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

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The White House blog has been shamelessly claiming how progressive and good for the American people the Trans-Pacific Partnership is. The other day, it sent out a message about how the TPP was good for environmental issues and included quotes from environmentalists who supported it. What? The World Wildlife Fund and Nature Conservancy are supporting the TPP? Here’s Carter Roberts, CEO of the WWF:

A major trade agreement among these countries that includes strong environmental obligations could provide critical new protections for some of our planet’s important natural resources. More specifically, it could disrupt some of the most notorious trading routes that are driving the current global wildlife poaching epidemic.

As nearly four years of negotiations come to a close, TPP countries face a choice. Do they keep their promise to create an ambitious 21st century trade deal with a fully enforceable environment chapter or do they abandon real environmental protections for weak, voluntary promises?

The U.S. has pressed hard throughout the process, and in response to the recent leak of the environment chapter, US Trade Representative Ambassador Mike Froman wrote that our government “will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement.”

It’s great to see the U.S. continue to publicly show its support for the environment. US leadership is paramount to delivering a final TPP with strong conservation protections, but it’s critical that other TPP nations make similar public commitments. As major producers and traders of wildlife, fish and timber, all negotiating nations have a responsibility to ensure that resources are well managed and that illegal trade and subsidies do not contribute to the depletion of fish stocks or increase illegal logging and wildlife trafficking.

Of course, many environmental groups oppose the TPP, although their voices have not been very strong in the debate. The Natural Resources Defense Council:

As a result, any trade agreement with these countries must address the key environmental and conservation challenges facing us in the 21st century, such as destruction of our oceans, wildlife, forests, public health, and climate. The U.S. has pushed for a minimum set of conservation protections in the TPP Environment Chapter – just one of 29 TPP chapters. But the devil is in the details and there are a number of aspects that the U.S. has resisted including in the agreement and provisions that could undermine key environmental safeguards. Unfortunately due to arcane rules pushed by the U.S., we have no idea what is in this agreement and won’t know until the final deal is reached as the documents are kept secret. But we do have some insights into a couple of aspects, including the Environment Chapter, thanks to leaks of earlier versions of the negotiating documents. And the signs from those leaks were troubling enough that NRDC, Sierra Club, and WWF raised serious concerns back in January about the reported language in the Environment Chapter.

So as negotiators make a final push to wrap up agreements this year, thirteen leading environmental and conservation groups – including NRDC, Sierra Club, WWF, League of Conservation Voters, and Oceana – sent a letter to the U.S. government articulating basic minimum conservation protections that need to be included in the final TPP environment chapter. On top of that a number of groups, including NRDC, have raised concerns about other TPP provisions including the inclusion of secret courts that would give new rights to corporations to challenge environmental and other public interest policies in un-transparent trade tribunals and the exclusion of key environmental agreements that address climate change or mercury pollution. At the same time, these trade agreements don’t establish minimum environmental safeguards that each participating country must meet, such as protecting their citizens from dangerous pollution. Here is a basic summary of my organization’s minimum requirements for the TPP. Unfortunately the leaked documents fall well short of these principles.

Interestingly, both sides of this within environmentalism are using the issue of enforceability as the key to their point. A few of the more conservative and less far-reaching groups are pointing specifically to wildlife trafficking protections as the reason to support it while those with a broader agenda see another version of NAFTA, lacking real, meaningful, and enforceable regulations on transnational environmental issues.

It’s worth noting here that some environmental groups decided to support NAFTA in 1993 because they wanted to continue to be part of the conversation and be in a favorable position with the Clinton administration. That strategy worked very poorly for the environment itself given the huge negative impacts on the Mexican environment from American corporations outsourcing production. It’s possible that is what some of the pro-TPP groups are thinking here again. It’s a short-sighted strategy.

You can read the Wikileaks account of the draft environmental passages of the TPP from 2014 here
. It does not look promising.

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