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Environmental groups: top secret Pacific trade agreement to sacrifice wildlife, environment

Environmental groups have blasted draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) released yesterday by WikiLeaks as potentially devastating to the environment and wildlife. The massive 12-nation free trade agreement has been negotiated in secret now for almost four years, and the information release by WikiLeaks shows that key environmental safeguards in the agreement are being stripped away, including a ban on shark finning and illegal logging, as well as legally-enforced pollution regulations.

“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,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said bluntly. “This draft chapter falls flat on every single one of our issues—oceans, fish, wildlife, and forest protections – and in fact, rolls back on the progress made in past free trade pacts.”

The TPP has been one of the Obama Administration’s top priorities for the Pacific region, but green groups say that it looks like the administration has given significant ground on crucial environmental issues in a desire to get the deal signed, which has already run past its goal of finalization by 2013. Many past free trade agreements have wholly lacked any legally-binding environmental safeguards, but in 2007 then U.S. President George W. Bush struck an agreement with democrats to include environmental safeguards in all future free trade agreements.

However, environmentalists are now concerned that this requirement will bring about little environmental gains in the TPP. For example, the draft text completely lacks any enforcement.

“The dispute settlement mechanisms it creates are cooperative instead of binding; there are no required penalties and no proposed criminal sanctions,” says WikiLeaks. An analysis by Jane Kelsey with the University of Aukland finds that the draft text “falls far below the standards” set by the U.S. Congress in 2007.

“Negotiators are allowing a unique opportunity to protect wildlife and support legal sustainable trade of renewable resources to slip through their fingers. 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,” said Carter Roberts, President of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who called the information leak a “peek behind the curtain.”

According to the release by WikiLeaks, the TPP as it stands does not even require member nations to uphold commitments to global environmental agreements, such the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Criticism of the TPP goes well-beyond environmental issues, however. Many groups have complained of the investor-state settlement agreement in the plan that allows corporations to sue countries when contracts are breached. Critics of this model say it benefits foreign investors as they expense of human rights, working conditions, and the environment. Negotiations have also been blasted for being held completely behind closed doors, with some U.S. Senators complaining that multinational corporations are privy to the negotiations while the U.S. Congress is left in the dark.

In addition to the U.S., TPP member states include Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Peru.

Deforestation in Malaysian Borneo. A recent analysis found that Malaysia, which is a part of the TPP, has the world's highest deforestation rate between 2000-2012. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Deforestation in Malaysian Borneo. A recent analysis found that Malaysia, which is a part of the TPP, has the world’s highest deforestation rate between 2000-2012. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

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