By Margaret Badore
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal being negotiated among twelve countries around the Pacific Rim. The terms of the agreement have been discussed largely in secret for the past three years, yet President Obama has deemed passing the agreement a top trade priority.
This past week, WikiLeaks released a draft of the trade agreement's environmental chapter, along with that chapter's working group chair report. A number of environmental groups say the leaked documents are too soft on several key environmental issues.
1) Pollution controls
Environmental groups are taking issue with the process for prosecuting violators of environmental agreements. The trade agreement does not impose any explicit penalties for "non-compliance," but rather sets up a system where parties that suspect wrongdoing can request that a committee "consider whether the matter could benefit from cooperative activities under this agreement." That seems like a pretty toothless way to handle polluters of any kind.
A statement from the World Wildlife Federation, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club concludes, "this vastly insufficient process is an unacceptable rollback of previous commitments and renders the obligations in this chapter virtually meaningless."
2) More fracking
Trans-Pacific Partnership will lead to a massive expansion of the export of liquified natural gas, most of which will be extracted by fracking, according to an analysis by the Sierra Club. The agreements could lead to the approval of natural gas exports to any of the partnership countries without review. That's bad news for global climate change.
3) No ban on shark finning
Shark finning is the process of capturing wild sharks, cutting their fins off, and dumping them back in the sea to die. The environmental chapter includes non-binding language that encourages participating governments to voluntarily implement ocean conservation practices.
"We've been calling for a ban on shark finning, which should be in this chapter," said Ilana Solomon from the Sierra Club told the BBC.
4) Illegal timber and wildlife
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is an important agreement that has already been signed by all of the countries that involved with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. However, it has been difficult to enforce. The trade agreement could provide a better enforcement framework, but again, the environmental chapter only makes a non-binding reference of commitment to stopping the illegal sale and shipping of wild animals and plants.
For the U.S., the documents reveal considerably weaker standards than it has maintained in past trade agreements. Since 2007, all free-trade agreements have been required environmental provisions include the same legally binding language as labor and intellectual property chapters. The trade agreement is still only a draft, but a bill has been introduced in U.S. legislation that could potentially fast-track the agreement.