TPP Wikileaked: US Watering Down Enviro Protections in Secret Trade Deal

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Obama Meets Trans-Pacific Partnership Leaders
President Barack Obama speaks with Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei after meeting with Trans-Pacific Partnership leaders at the Hale Koa Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii on Saturday, November 12, 2011. (Photo by Kent Nishimura-Pool/Getty Images)

Another chapter in the tale of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a secret international trade deal being pushed by the Obama administration and described by critics as “NAFTA on steroids” — has once again been Wikileaked. This one deals with the environment, and it shows that, by and large, the US is caving on environmental standards it had previously set for international trade agreements.

Environmental groups say the protections that are included in the document are weak — and, furthermore, that the pact contains no enforcement mechanisms. This breaks with recent precedent — in 2007, Bush reached an agreement with congressional Democrats that required environmental provisions in trade agreements to be legally binding.

“The lack of fully-enforceable environmental safeguards means negotiators are allowing a unique opportunity to protect wildlife and support legal sustainable trade of renewable resources to slip through their fingers,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund. “These nations account for more than a quarter of global trade in fish and wood products and they have a responsibility to address trade’s impact on wildlife crime, illegal logging and overfishing.”

The TPP is a deal negotiated by the US, New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Australia, Vietnam, Peru, Malaysia, Canada, Mexico and Japan. The complete text has not been released to the public, but the Obama administration is rushing to get it finalized as part of a strategic “pivot to Asia.” The agreement had previously been criticized for increasing corporate control over the Internet, copyrights and patents and potentially having the same negative effect on the US job market as NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement entered into 20 years ago.

The administration has billed the environmental chapter of TPP as a counter to the agreement’s extensive corporate privileges, but after reading the newly leaked document, environmental groups said it would be ineffectual. “If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama’s environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush’s,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “This draft chapter falls flat on every single one of our issues — oceans, fish, wildlife and forest protections — and in fact, rolls back the progress made in past trade pacts.”

The leaked documents show that other countries involved in the treaty have resisted the the environmental provisions pushed by the US. Coral Davenport writes at The New York Times:

The documents consist of the environmental chapter as well as a “Report from the Chairs,” which offers an unusual behind-the-scenes look into the divisive trade negotiations, until now shrouded in secrecy. The report indicates that the United States has been pushing for tough environmental provisions, particularly legally binding language that would provide for sanctions against participating countries for environmental violations. The United States is also insisting that the nations follow existing global environmental treaties.

But many of those proposals are opposed by most or all of the other Pacific Rim nations working on the deal, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Peru. Developing Asian countries, in particular, have long resisted outside efforts to enforce strong environmental controls, arguing that they could hurt their growing economies.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid has said a bill to fast-track the TPP won’t move anytime soon.

“There’s a lot of controversy on that, and I’m going to see how that plays out with my caucus and the Senate,” Reid told reporters.

For more on the TPP, watch Bill’s interview with economist Dean Baker and financial expert Yves Smith, read Joshua Holland’s Q&A with trade expert Lori Wallach or read Baker’s analysis of another leaked chapter of the TPP agreement.

John Light blogs and works on multimedia projects for Moyers & Company. Before joining the Moyers team, he worked as a public radio producer and a freelance multimedia journalist. His work has been supported by grants from The Nation Institute Investigative Fund and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards, among others. A New Jersey native, John studied history and film at Oberlin College and holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. Follow John on Twitter @lighttweeting.
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  • Al Lehmann

    A huge flaw in standard accounting measures (through which, I assume, trade figures will be calculated, compared, and negotiated) is that major costs, such as environmental damage are not included. This lack of accounting for major costs is what makes the whole exercise fraudulent and futile.

    However, those who stand to profit by this arrangement don’t mind, and never have.

  • Joan Harris

    Looks like congress wants some answers to this secret trade deal. If Obama is forced to explain the administration’s position, perhaps that could force him to rethink his support of big corporations. I welcome the unraveling of this! As much as I like Obama, I object to him caving to other nations greed at the expense of the environment AND American workers.

  • Diana Reichardt

    I hope you are right Joan.

  • Anonymous

    Until America takes the money out of politics we haven’t got a hope in hell. If the TPP doesn’t get done during the current administration the next one will pick up where he left off. The corporatocracy will keep up their destruction of REAL humans in the pursuit of money and control of government is one surefire way to achieve that goal. It’s the way corporations are structured and the people behind this think they can run the world most effectively as if it were a giant corporation. Problem is when there is no longer many but only one or two corporations where will they go to fulfill their mission to “grow the company & increase profits”? Boredom is a dangerous thing…especially in one who has enormous power. Rather unbelievable to think Machiavelli still exists in spirit and frightening to think of him with this kind of power.

  • Dave

    Agree. The thing is, at some point government whether it calls itself a democracy or not, becomes irrelevant and the corporatocracy is what determines the quality of our lives. We seem to be approaching that place if we aren’t already there. Sad.

  • Dave

    Yea, seems like some democrats are selling out. Bernie Sanders has a point. We need a new and vigorous progressive party. But unless how will that happen when the system is so polluted by corporate money ?? Let me suggest that ordinary PEOPLE need to get engaged, get educated, and vote. First they have to turn off the reality TV shows . . .

  • Audun Nilsen

    Let him who hath understanding reckon the mother of the beast and then let him who is without sin cast the first stoner at the Fathers of Lies.

  • Anonymous

    He is not a fan of wildlife and was/is instrumental in sending wildhorses and burros to slaughter, and giving designated wild horse lands to cattlemen.

  • Rik Burns

    Thanks for the article. I’m a bit confused, so please help me make sense of this. In reading your article, it seems to me that the U.S. is lowering environmental protections, but in the leaked document you quote, it seems that the U.S. is trying to protect the environment, while the other “Pacific Rim Nations” are not. If this is true, then whatis really going on? Am I missing something? And what about the powerful multi-national corporations involved? Thank you for help in clearing this up.