WikiLeaks-produced cartoon for release of draft environment chapter of TPP

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement being finalized between the United States and eleven other countries largely avoids strengthening environmental protections, according to a leaked environmental chapter from the agreement that was published by WikiLeaks.

The environmental chapter lacks any enforcement mechanisms for whatever might be agreed upon between countries currently finalizing the agreement: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

The drive to protect the interests of corporations over the world’s environment has fueled dysfunction in the process. Indeed, after talks in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the agreement in November 2013, the countries were unable to advance discussion on the environment because they could not agree on a definition of “environmental law.”

WikiLeaks stated in a press release, “When compared against other TPP chapters, the Environment Chapter is noteworthy for its absence of mandated clauses or meaningful enforcement measures. The dispute settlement mechanisms it creates are cooperative instead of binding; there are no required penalties and no proposed criminal sanctions. With the exception of fisheries, trade in ‘environmental’ goods and the disputed inclusion of other multilateral agreements, the Chapter appears to function as a public relations exercise.”

Michael Brune, executive director for the Sierra Club, one of the largest and most influential environmental organizations in the US, reacted, “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. This draft chapter falls flat on every single one of our issues – oceans, fish, wildlife, and forest protections – and in fact, rolls back on the progress made in past free trade pacts.”

According to a Sierra Club analysis, it would not prohibit shark finning, even though the US is required by law to seek bans against this practice from countries. It relies on trade sanctions instead of fines if a country violates its obligations, which is a step backward. There also is no requirement in the drafted chapter to require countries stop illegal trade that may threaten communities or ecosystems.

A country must take measures that “allow it to take action.” In other words, the country must be fully capable of stopping the decimation or pollution of oceans, fish, forests, wildlife, etc, but there will be no penalty if they do not actually stop it, which undoubtedly will please corporations.

As Professor Jane Kelsey of Auckland University described in her analysis of the drafted chapter:

Australia, New Zealand the US and Canada were the four countries that voted against the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes indigenous rights in relation to genetic resources and biodiversity.

Parties have divergent positions on Multilateral Environmental Agreements. The US has not signed the Convention on Biological Diversity and very few of the twelve countries have signed or ratified the subsequent Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization. The US is also not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

None of the elements in the multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) are about to be embraced by the United States in this process. In fact, the US is about to approve of an agreement that simply asks countries to “affirm” their “commitments” to MEAs. There will be no accountability of those “commitments” are not kept.

One aspect of the chapter even suggests foreign companies might be allowed to use “arbitral panels” or overseas tribunals to pursue damages if environmental standards hurt investment profits.

The New York Times noted in its coverage of the released draft chapter that, in May 2007, President George W. Bush established an environmental deal with Senate and House Democrats as a free trade agreement with Peru was pushed through Congress.

“In what became known as the May 10 Agreement, Democrats got Mr. Bush to agree that all American free-trade deals would include a chapter with environmental provisions, phrased in the same legally binding language as chapters on labor, agriculture and intellectual property. The Democrats also insisted that the chapter require nations to recognize existing global environmental treaties,” the Times recounted.

In this ultra-secretive process in which virtually nothing has been known unless WikiLeaks publishes documents it has obtained, this one of the more alarming aspects of the trade negotiations. It may reinforce weaker standards for protecting the environment than what President Bush signed instead of taking steps to strengthen environmental protections.

Currently, a bill has been introduced in the Senate by Democratic Senator Max Baucus and in the House by Republican Representative Dave Camp to “fast track” the TPP. A significant number of House Democrats and Republicans have already announced opposition to this process of “fast tracking” to help President Barack Obama pass the trade agreement.

What is clear, based on drafts of the intellectual property chapter and other documents, is the US has been the most extreme negotiator in the process. Countries have fought to push back against aggressive proposals for intellectual property rights laws.

And now, in regards to the environment and the critical issue of climate change, the US is shirking its responsibility to be a leader in protecting the planet and is instead doing the bidding of 600 corporate “trade advisors” it has been consulting throughout this deeply undemocratic process.