Trans-Pacific Partnership a serious threat to environment

November 22, 2015

The secret text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was released on November 5 and was swiftly condemned by green groups around the world, which said the trade agreement fails to provide adequate protections for the environment.

The TPP was agreed to on September 5 by the US, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, Brunei, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam and Japan. These countries represent about 40% of global GDP.

But before the text had even been released, some environment groups endorsed it. The WWF, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society and other peak environment groups were listed as supporters of the trade deal on the US government's TPP promotion website.


WWF CEO Carter Roberts said: “No major trade agreement before this one has gone so far to address growing pressures on natural resources”.

The Nature Conservancy President Mark Tercek said: “We are strongly encouraged by the environmental provisions” and congratulated the US administration for “successful negotiation of these provisions”.

These groups seemed to have swallowed the Barack Obama government's line that the TPP takes environmental protection seriously. In a column published in Bloomberg on November 10, Obama said: “Provisions protecting the environment and combating wildlife trafficking make sure that economic growth doesn't come at the expense of the only planet we call home. And these commitments are enforceable…

“But I'm not asking you to take my word for it. Instead, I've posted the agreement online.”

Many green groups had never taken his word for it and pounced on the TPP text to analyse its effectiveness in protecting the environment.

Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at the Queensland University of Technology Matthew Rimmer told the November 5 Sydney Morning Herald it looked like the environment chapter was "greenwashing" the TPP.

“The environment chapter confirms some of the worst nightmares of environmental groups and climate activists ... The agreement has poor coverage of environmental issues, and weak enforcement mechanisms,” Rimmer said.

The environment groups that allowed themselves to be listed as supporters of the TPP could also be accused of greenwashing. But one of these groups, Defenders of Wildlife, has retracted its prior support. Before seeing the final text, Defenders president Jamie Rappaport had joined the chorus of green groups congratulating the Obama administration, saying in a statement: “The Obama administration and its negotiating partners deserve enormous credit for elevating these vital issues as part of the TPP talks.”

Retracted support

But after seeing the actual text, Rappaport retracted his support, instead condemning the TPP. “Now that the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is available to the public, it is disappointingly clear that this is not the tougher language we had hoped for,” he said. “The environment chapter is weak and fails to provide the necessary requirements and stronger penalties desperately needed to better fight poaching, protect wildlife habitat and shut down the illegal wildlife trade. The agreement also leaves our own domestic environmental laws vulnerable to legal challenge internationally, outside of our own judiciary system.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said: “Many provisions in the deal's environment chapter are toothless and fail to offer any of the protections proponents of this deal have touted. Some provisions even fail to meet the minimum standards of environmental protection established in the 'fast-track' law and included in past trade deals negotiated under the George W Bush administration.”

Climate change not mentioned

Most damning of all is the TPP's complete disregard for the most pressing environmental issue we face — climate change. Friends of the Earth's Cam Walker said: “On top of this overarching failure to protect the natural environment, by far the most gaping hole in the chapter is the phrase 'climate change'. Despite the fact that climate change is the greatest threat to the environment, and is not unrelated to an increase in trade, these words are completely absent from the entire chapter, and in fact from the whole agreement.”

Thirteen leading US environmental groups, including, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Sierra Club, sent a letter on October 29 urging members of Congress to vote "no" to the TPP if it did not address a list of six minimum standards for adequate protection of the environment.

The Sierra Club compared the TPP environment chapter to the standards set in the letter and determined that it “fails to provide adequate protection in five of six environmentally critical areas, while doing nothing to strengthen an enforcement mechanism that has consistently failed to curb environmental violations on the ground”.

The Sierra Club found the TPP failed to include the “May 10th” obligations. On May 10, 2007, the Bush administration agreed to include a list of seven multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) in all subsequent free trade agreements. Since then, all FTAs the US has signed abided by this. But the TPP only requires countries to observe one of those MEAs — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Even so, the TPP calls countries to only “endeavour to implement, as appropriate, CITES resolutions.”

TPP countries are required to only “combat” illegal trade in flora and fauna, but there are no provisions requiring actual prohibition.

On illegal fishing, the TPP fails to prohibit trade in illegal products, and does not force countries to abide by the trade provisions of regional fisheries management organisations.

To deter shark finning and commercial whaling, the TPP includes “a toothless aspiration to 'promote the long-term conservation of sharks … and marine mammals' via a non-binding list of suggested measures that countries 'should' take.”

The Sierra Club found that the banning of two types of subsidies that contribute to overfishing was the only provision in the TPP that met the standards of the letter to Congress. It concluded: “For the environment, the TPP's net balance is decidedly negative.”

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.