Trans Pacific Partnership – Bad for the Environment, Too

On January 15 of 2014, Wikileaks released the entire chapter of the Trans Pacific Partnership that deals with Environmental concerns. The text itself is fairly recent, having been compiled for the November 2013 Chief Negotiator’s Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah. This chapter gives us a little more insight into the TPP.

The Environmental package presents the same concerns noted in earlier leaks of the TPP – that the trade agreement would circumvent and trump local Environmental laws if those local laws are deemed to be counter-productive to the ability to make a profit. In short, it prioritizes profit before the Environment in a way that no other legislation ever has.

Critics of the deal are saying that the Environmental clause is practically meaningless. The language is not strong enough to properly protect the environment or guard against further human influence in climate change, and most of the language centers around corporate protections and procedures to resolve conflicts.

Auckland University’s Professor Jane Kelsey, a trade and investment expert, analyzed the leaked Chapter for Wikileaks. In her opinion, the language does not go far enough to establish a strong and modern standard of environmental protection, and the chapter’s obligations are weak and essentially unenforceable. She describes it as a “win-win” for corporate interests.

There are two words that mean an awful lot in these kinds of documents – “shall” and “may”. In short, “shall” is equivalent to “must”, while “may” is far weaker, usually indicating an optional measure. “Shall” is used a lot – 114 times in this section, in fact – but it is weakened by the use of “weasel words” like “endeavor to”. Perhaps I can best explain with an example:

This part is found very early in the text, Article SS.3.3: “Each Party shall strive to ensure that its environmental laws and policies provide for and encourage high levels of environmental protection and shall strive to continue to improve its respective levels of environmental protection.” The word “shall” appears twice in that one, but the phrases “strive to”, “provide for”, “encourage”, “high levels of”, “continue to improve” and “respective” all serve to take the “oomph” out of the language. Phrases like “endeavour to” and “strive to” are essentially “try to”. Practically speaking, this means that each country should probably try to encourage some kind of environmental protections.

There’s something else important about that quoted text, and that’s what is NOT said. So each country should probably make an attempt at encouraging environmental protection, or… or what? They’ll get a sternly worded letter from someone?

Clear and meaningful wording would sound more like, “Each Party’s environmental laws and policies shall provide the highest level of environmental protection, and each party shall continually improve environmental protections through the timely implementation of advancements in environmental sciences, under penalty of trade tribunal fine or sanction“. See how that’s done? The weasel words are gone, the language is clear and concise, and the “or else” is defined. Now go back and read that original text and you’ll see how meaningless it really is.

This soft language allows countries to get around stricter environmental laws, as it doesn’t raise international standards of environmental protection, it lowers them to the lowest common denominator. The environment loses ground with this trade agreement.

An unlikely hero has emerged out of all this. Senator Harry Mason Reid – a Democrat from Nevada and as Senate Majority Leader, the second most powerful Democrat on the Hill – has become the spanner in the works.

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama talked about how urgently essential it was for his administration to have the ability to negotiate trade deals without interference from Congress. What Obama was saying was that he wants to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership by excluding Congress from the process.

There are two things that get under Harry Reid’s skin. One is free trade agreements, and the other is limiting Congress’s power. Reid has vowed to push back hard on this fast-track request.

It’s bad enough that the negotiations are being held in highest secrecy. It’s bad enough that whatever little bits of the TPP that are leaked contain disastrous and draconian policies and language. It’s bad enough that this hurried piece of legislation will be responsible for governing 40% of the planet’s Gross Domestic Product, we don’t need to rush into something that potentially removes a great deal of consumer protections and privacy laws in the long term.
And yes, I understand that this “do-nothing Congress” seems determined to set a new standard in low productivity, but the solution is not bypassing any oversight process altogether.

I’m with Harry Reid. Stop the fast-track. No trade deal should ever be fast-tracked. “Fast-tracking” means less of an attention to detail. Once a trade deal is in place, amending it is a long, expensive, difficult process. I’m a big fan of the “measure twice, cut once” philosophy.
In this age of misinformation and unfettered corporate lobbying, doing something about the environment is a tough enough sell as it is, we don’t need to complicate things by creating even broader advantages for corporate interests.

So again, what can you do to stop the TPP? There are loads of online petitions out there that you can sign. Americans can contact your elected official, and in other countries please contact your elected officials and let them know that you don’t want to fast-track this trade agreement, that you oppose the agreement in principle, and that you want proper oversight and transparency in the process.

One thought on “Trans Pacific Partnership – Bad for the Environment, Too

  1. The extreme secrecy and the mad rush to “fast-track” just make a bad situation look even worse. Or maybe the TPP just really is that bad. We, the people, really need to KNOW what is going on with this thing. I have called & sent emails & signed petitions and I'm feeling an urge to make MORE calls, emails, & signatures. Everyone needs to step up on this one because it really does effect the whole world.

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