The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed trade agreement currently being negotiated among 12 nations to promote economic trade and development across their borders. Some have said that the TPP, if passed, would be “ambitious” and “comprehensive.” Recent talks ending February 25th have shown that many obstacles to a final agreement remain, including significant gaps on issues such as environment and labor standards and intellectual property protections, as well as political opposition at home. The trade ministers of the 12-nation group, which includes Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, and the United States, departed from the Singapore meeting without any set date for the next round of trade talks.
The United States faces strong political opposition against the TPP at home, in part due to the shroud of secrecy surrounding the negotiations. Members of Congress, most notably Senator Ron Wyden, have been calling for more transparency in the TPP negotiations. As Senator Wyden explained in a Congressional statement, while “the majority of Congress is being kept in the dark” regarding the substance of the negotiations, “representatives of U.S. corporations . . . are being consulted and made privy to the details of the agreement.” Concerns regarding the lack of negotiation transparency are not limited to Congress, especially when it comes to environmental matters. Non-governmental organizations have also highlighted issues with the current status of TPP negotiations, such as “extreme secrecy,” “unfettered rights to corporations,” and an “increase in dirty fracking” as threats to current environmental protections and regulations.
This past November, the executives of 24 environmental organizations called on Michael Froman, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), to ensure that a “strong and enforceable environment chapter” be included in the trade agreement. In that joint letter, the organizations commended the United States for its “high standard of ambition on conservation issues” proposed during previous rounds of TPP negotiations, and reiterated the need for “robust” measures to conserve “oceans, forests, and wildlife.”
The leak of a U.S. TPP trade talk proposal in February revealed that this “high standard of ambition on conservation issues” has all but disappeared in the most recent round of talks – a sharp turn, some argue, to accommodate corporate interests. The leaks demonstrate the United States removed the term “climate change” from the trade discussions in favor of the more euphemistic “transition to a low-emissions economy.” Moreover, in a biodiversity section, the United States proposed to remove language that would guarantee a country’s right to determine access to their natural and genetic resources. Some fear that this is also a direct concession to corporate interests. Major environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, have since called the U.S. proposal “incredibly disappointing.”
Coupling the current stalemate of trade talks with the watered down environmental protections proposals, it now appears that the “high standard of ambition on conservation issues” has become an unattainable goal. The clear lack of transparency throughout these negotiations should be alarming to environmentalists. The most recently leaked proposal demonstrates that the United States is not giving environmental protections and regulations the full backing initially hoped for by groups such as the Sierra Club. The USTR has since defended the proposal, arguing that the leaks did not present the “full range of potential environmental benefits being negotiated at the TPP.” Nevertheless, given recent revelations, it is more likely that corporations, rather than environmentalists, will be lauding the USTR for a “high standard of ambition” in future TPP proposals.