EIA recognizes new commitment to shut down trade in stolen resources; Does not support TPP due to overall threats to environment
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The current model of free trade agreements, including the text released today of the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), creates enormous perils for the environment. The race to secure greater access to natural resources and more favorable terms for trade through the existing trade model has resulted in serious environmental destruction and impaired the ability of governments around the world to effectively govern their natural resources. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) will not support a trade agreement that expands this harmful model, which, based on the released text, includes the TPP.
“It’s the first time that a free trade agreement recognizes that it must support the global effort to shut down trade in stolen natural resources,” said EIA Executive Director Alexander von Bismarck. “Whether the TPP will actually do that, in practice, is an open question. EIA remains extremely concerned that the FTA as a whole will make it more difficult for countries around the world to effectively manage their resources and protect the global environment.”
EIA recognizes that this agreement does, for the first time in the history of multilateral trade policy, contain a principle that has the potential to counteract some of the negative effects of liberalizing trade: to forbid the trade in illegally taken natural resources. An overall increase in trade results in an increase in illegal trade, or trade in “stolen” natural resources, unless strong measures are enacted to actively prevent it. The principle is vaguely worded in the TPP, but it does reflect an emerging new standard that is absolutely critical for the future responsible management of the world’s environment. The TPP attempts to include this emerging norm by requiring that “each Party shall take measures to combat, and cooperate to prevent, the trade of wild fauna and flora that, based on credible evidence, were taken or traded in violation of that Party’s law or another applicable law.”
This follows action by major markets around the world, including the United States, the EU, and Australia to expressly forbid the import of illegally logged wood, which led to the largest flooring retailer in the United States, Lumber Liquidators, pleading guilty last month to importing illegal oak from Siberian tiger habitat. For the TPP to be part of this positive global movement toward shutting down the market for stolen natural resources, it must result in clear prohibitions on such illegal trade as well as strong sanctions, penalties, and other actions that will facilitate enforcement as well as deter future trafficking in poached or illegally harvested species. If fully implemented and strongly enforced, this commitment could signal that even free trade agreements will say no to stolen forests, fish, and endangered species, which would be a great step forward.
However, the TPP as a whole has serious implications for the environment above and beyond trade. In particular the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions allow corporations to sue governments in private tribunals over legitimate regulatory action to safeguard natural resources. Despite some changes to the text, the underlying mechanism and the danger it poses remain intact.
The standards originally laid out in the May 10th, 2007 bipartisan trade deal, and included in the Trade Authorities and Accountability Act of 2015, were meant as a first step to place environmental and labor provisions on a more equal footing with the traditional trade provisions included in such agreements. These remain an important baseline, but are still far from what is necessary for the environment to be adequately protected and natural resources maintained.
The TPP environment chapter should be judged by whether its provisions are strong enough to have a meaningful impact on the ground in TPP countries, and whether the obligations will actually be enforced. While stronger provisions have been included in the environment chapters of FTAs in the years since the May 10th agreement, we have no evidence that these are being enforced. To the contrary, under the terms of the Peru FTA, for example, we have documented a systemic lack of enforcement leading to any tangible consequences, even in the face of irrefutable evidence that the illegal timber harvest and trade continues unabated.
Maggie Dewane, EIA Press Officer, [email protected], (202) 483 6621