A cartoon image in the recently leaked ‘Environment Chapter’ of the the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the secretive trade agreement being negotiated by the U.S. and 11 other countries, shows Mickey Mouse expounding to the wildlife that surround him. “Of course the environment is in the TPP," he exclaims.
But, as WikiLeaks revealed when it released the chapter last month, the draft version of the agreement exposes most of its environmental protections as toothless and unenforceable.
“The enforcement provisions effectively result in a report that documents how bad the problem is,” says Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “but doesn’t lead to any financial penalties as would occur in the rest of the trade agreement.”
“It’s like saying it’s illegal to speed, but never having any tickets issued or traffic cops on the beat.”
Trade agreements set the contour for how countries do business. In the case of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, trade regulations between the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are at stake.
Last fall, 24 environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, the NRDC and the World Wildlife Fund, sent a letter to the TPP's U.S. Trade Representative. The U.S.-driven Trans-Pacific Partnership, the letter explained, could undercut national, state and local environmental laws.
Calling for a strong and legally enforceable environment chapter, the organizations pinpointed several pressure points, including eliminating fisheries subsidies — which ignore the diminishing global supply, banning the illegally harvested timber trade and upholding domestic environmental laws.
“These agreements have a way of slipping in pieces which allow potential regulatory rollbacks for things we take as a fundamental basis for protection, like how much toxins can be in our foods and how much dirty air we have to breathe," Schmidt says. "We clearly don’t want trade agreements which set a minimum standard that rolls back the progress we’ve made in the U.S.”
Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch has been working for trade agreements with enforceable environmental and labor standards for decades. She says rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership on energy and climate would subject U.S. climate countering policies to challenge by a corporate tribunal. The tribunals, Wallach says — like those in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization — allow corporations to challenge and demand cash compensation for domestic laws they believe will undermine future profits.
This is where things get difficult, says Wallach: Policies to reduce carbon often reduce exports or imports of oil. An oil company could challenge these policies by bringing a complaint to a trade tribunal which places a higher value on future profits than on public interest or the environment.
The TPP would also lift the ban on the export of liquid natural gas (LNG), which currently requires a special waiver from the Department of Energy. That would increase hydraulic fracking, the controversial extraction practice that goes with it.
“It would be a huge new pressure,” says Wallach. “More fracking, more potential water contamination and more LNG terminals for export.”
In an attempt to move the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement ahead — negotiations have been underway for three years — the Obama administration is lobbying Congress to grant it trade promotion authority known as “fast track." Fast track turns over Congress’ constitutional trade and legislative writing authority to the president.
As Wallach sees it, the TPP is so unpopular in Congress, “that the administration has basically come to the conclusion that the only way they’ll get it through Congress is if they railroad it through.”
The largest fight against the bill is in the House, where 151 representatives signed a letter back in November urging Obama to work with Congress on a new Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement — one that could potentially be a model for trade agreements all over the world. The model envisioned in the letter would uphold domestic laws, increase family wage jobs and respect the environment, among other key points.
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