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International | Santa Cruz Indymedia | U.S. | Environment & Forest Defense | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism
Not the End Game: Sierra Club Statement on Trans-Pacific Partnership
Bali, Indonesia -- This week, President Obama will hold a summit with the heads of state of the 11 other nations negotiating for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. The summit will take place on the sidelines of the 21st Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting. Despite the fact that there is no consensus on how the trade pact will protect workers rights and environmental safeguards, the heads of state are expected to announce major progress toward concluding a TPP deal after four years of contentious negotiations.
In response, Ilana Solomon, Director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, released the following statement:
"Don’t be fooled -- this is not the end game. Even though the public has been kept in the dark during most of the trade negotiation process, we’re certain there are a number of major issues still unresolved.
"The strong rules in the environment chapter proposed by U.S. Ambassador Froman are hotly contested by other countries, and there is no consensus whether the pact will make rules legally binding. That could mean more trade in illegally harvested timber and illegally taken wildlife, for example.
"Other parts of the agreement are just as distressing. The TPP will empower corporations to attack environmental laws and policies and will facilitate unchecked gas exports and the expansion of dirty and dangerous fracking.
"While governments continue to negotiate this pact behind closed doors, Congress will soon decide whether or not to fast track this and other trade agreements. Congress must not give up its right to ensure that the contents of trade agreements protect the public -- especially when an agreement is as expansive as the TPP.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement:
What it could mean for the Environment The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is an expansive trade agreement being negotiated between countries in the Pacific Rim, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States. Japan has also announced its intention to join the agreement. Because the TPP is intended as a “docking agreement,” other Pacific Rim countries can join over time.The Pacific Rim is an area of great significance from an environmental perspective. It includes Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef system, home to more than 11,000 species. It includes Peru and its Amazon Rainforest—one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth. But the natural environment and rich biodiversity of the Pacific Rim are threatened by, among other things, illegal and/or unsustainable commercial exploitation. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for about one third of all the threatened species in the world. The numbers of several species of oceanic sharks, including reef sharks, are declined rapidly. And illegal logging persists in a number of TPP countries, threatening not only natural forests, but the communities who live in and rely upon the forests. The TPP must serve to strengthen environmental protection and support the biodiversity in the Pacific Rim and not facilitate a race to the bottom in environmental deregulation.
Cloaked in Secrecy
The proposed TPP touches on a broad range of issues—the environment, workers and jobs, agriculture, health, access to medicines, and more. Government officials tout the agreement as a “21st Century Trade Agreement,” but it is hard to know what this means or what they are negotiating because the talks are held in near complete secrecy. Negotiators are developing TPP texts, or chapters, behind closed doors with very little public input. None of the texts are public (though a few have leaked). Moreover, nearly the only people, apart from TPP government officials, with access to texts are more than 600 business representatives who serve as official US trade advisors. Even members of Congress are left in the dark on the actual contents of the TPP.
The TPP and the Environment
Environmental chapters in our trade deals have a history of lacking meaningful enforcement. But they've been strengthened over the years, largely thanks to citizen-led advocacy by groups including the Sierra Club. This pressure led to the forging of a bipartisan consensus in May 2007 that set the minimum standards for environment, labor and other provisions in our trade agreements. It is essential that the environment chapter of the TPP build on this progress. At the minimum, the chapter should be binding and subject to the same dispute settlement provisions as commercial chapters; ensure that countries uphold and strengthen their domestic environmental laws and policies and their obligations under agreed multilateral environmental agreements; and include biding provisions to address the core environment and conservation challenges of the Pacific Rim region, such as efforts to combat illegal trade in wood, wood products, and wildlife and to strengthen fisheries management.
The TPP and Investment
A recently leaked draft of the investment chapter reveals that the TPP will likely follow the same flawed model of past agreements which allows foreign corporations to sue governments directly--for unlimited cash compensation--over almost any domestic environmental or other law that the corporation believes is hurting its ability to profit. While typically disagreements over trade are handled between countries, the investment rules set up a different structure for corporations to take advantage of. So-called ‘investor-state cases’ are heard in private and nontransparent tribunals without public comment or participation. This means that not only do investor-state casesthreaten laws designed to protect our health and environment, but they do so in a completely non-transparent manor. To date, corporations such as Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical have launched than 450 cases against 89 governments.1 Nearly $675 million has been paid to corporations under U.S. FTAs and bilateral investment treaties, with about 70% of money going to oil, gas, and mining industries.
Increase in Dirty Fracking
The TPP may allow for significantly increased exports of liquefied natural gas without the careful study or adequate protections necessary to safeguard the American public. This could mean an increase of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the dirty and violent process that dislodges gas deposits from shale rock formations. It would also likely cause an increase in natural gas and electricity prices, impacting consumers, manufacturers, workers, and increasing the use of dirty coal power.
Rollback of consumer rights
In May 2012, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against U.S. dolphin-safe tuna labels. The WTO found that these labels, which allow consumers to choose to buy tuna that was caught without using dolphin-killing fishing practices, discriminated against Mexican tuna fishers. The TPP, we understand, has provisions that would leave the door wide open to such outlandish cases which not only threaten our environment, but consumers' right to know and our government's right to regulate.
For more information on Sierra Club’s Labor and Trade Campaign, including information on how to get involved in the upcoming San Diego round, contact ilana.solomon [at] sierraclub.org or visit http://www.sierraclub.org/trade.