After more than five years of negotiations and much secrecy, the Obama Administration released the full text of a controversial Pacific Rim trade deal Thursday. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement streamlines business between 12 Asia-Pacific countries, including the United States.
It’s a 6,000-page document that stakeholders on a number of fronts — including agriculture, manufacturing, the environment and labor — are just starting to dissect as they prepare to lobby Congress, which will likely decide next spring whether or not to ratify the deal.
So what does the TPP have to say on the environment?
In a chapter dedicated to the topic, the trade deal outlines provisions to curtail illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trafficking. It also encourages the member parties to transition to a “low emissions economy.” The words “climate change” and “carbon” do not appear once in the chapter.
The word “voluntary,” however, appears nine times. That’s the key here: this is a trade deal, not an environmental agreement.
The TPP does provide recommendations for environmental best practices but it does not institute any binding international environmental regulations. Nor does it allow member countries to impose their own standards for environmental stewardship on other member countries.
Here are some highlights from the environment chapter:
Illegal Wildlife Trafficking:
The TPP encourages member countries to “work together and share experiences” related to “combating the illegal take of, and illegal trade in, wild fauna and flora, including combating illegal logging and associated illegal trade...Such measures shall include sanctions, penalties, or other effective measures.”
The deal calls on each member country to “seek to operate” a fisheries management system that prevents overfishing, reduces bycatch and promotes the recovery of over-fished stocks “for all marine fisheries in which that party’s persons conduct fishing activities.”
On Carbon Emissions:
The TPP does not require commitments from member countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or specifically address climate change. It instead calls on those countries to work towards transitioning to a “low emissions economy.” That would involve cooperating around energy efficiency, renewable energy, emissions monitoring, market and non-market mechanisms and addressing deforestation, among other areas.
“The TPP could mark real progress on conserving wildlife, fisheries and forests, but the member countries need to go beyond good words and intentions in the agreement to support and implement effective environmental protections.” — World Wildlife Fund U.S. President and C.E.O. Carter Roberts in an emailed statement.
On Energy Exports:
Some environmental groups have raised concerns that the TPP would enable foreign corporations to override domestic environmental regulations in the interest of free trade.
Here’s the kind of scenario they don’t want to materialize: A Japanese company invests in a coal export terminal in Washington and the state denies it the necessary permits — and the TPP allows the company to contest the state’s decision before an international tribunal known as the ISDS or Investor-State Dispute Settlement process.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office says that process would not override the state’s decision.
"ISDS protects the sovereign right of States to regulate. They cannot overturn domestic laws or regulations." — U.S. Trade Representative website.
But the Japanese company could, in theory, demand that the state compensate it for the economic hardship it suffered because the state denied it the permits to build the terminal.
“The foreign companies would have an opportunity for the first time to show the damages or economic harm from that outcome and get compensated for the lost economic opportunity that was denied to them because of the failure to receive necessary state permits.” — Mike Zimmer, an expert on the TPP at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
Could states be exposed to the risk of having to compensate companies who are impacted by their permitting decisions? That’s a possibility. And it could have a chilling effect.
“The TPP may not trump state regulations but it creates an alteration in the economics that could affect the regulatory process out of fear of necessary reparations.” — Zimmer.