Several green groups outline demands for Pacific trade pact

Several green groups outline demands for Pacific trade pact
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More than a dozen environmental and conservation groups on Thursday laid out eight pages of demands that they say lawmakers must use to judge the strength of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

The groups, led by the Sierra Club, are sending a letter to members of Congress well in advance of an expected vote on the sweeping Asia-Pacific deal that was completed nearly a month ago with 11 other nations, according to the document first obtained by The Hill.

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The groups are urging a “no” vote on the 12-nation deal if the TPP doesn’t address their concerns.

The letter is a last-ditch effort from environmentalists, who feel that significant parts of what they demanded in TPP were not incorporated into the deal, despite the Obama administration’s efforts to highlight protections for wildlife and conservation.

The White House has said it would release the TPP text within 30 days of TPP’s conclusion, a deadline that is fast approaching.

But a vote on the TPP isn't expected until at least early next year. Once the text is released there will be a 60-day period before President Obama can sign the deal, which covers 40 percent of global growth. 

In response to the letter, U.S. Trade Representative’s Office argued that there is plenty of support from environmental groups for the TPP.

"The Obama administration is aggressively working to combat wildlife fishing, illegal logging and illegal fishing in TPP,” a USTR spokesman told The Hill.

The Nature Conservancy, Rainforest Alliance, World Wildlife Fund and Defenders of Wildlife are among nearly a dozen groups that have expressed support for the strength of TPP’s environmental and conservation provisions. 

“The TPP utilizes fully enforceable, first-ever provisions that will deliver real-world change by combatting environmental threats that impact ecosystems, livelihoods and economies alike," the spokesman said. "TPP represents a seismic shift in America’s approach to trade and the environment."

The greens’ demands are meant to allay their concerns about the agreement, chiefly that it would give foreign corporations too much power to challenge U.S. environmental protections and that international trade of fossil fuels would be greatly increased.

Negotiators included a chapter in the agreement to protect the environment, but as the detailed text of the pact has not been released publicly and only outlines have, greens said they cannot fully judge if their concerns have been met.

“The 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 be enforced,” the groups wrote in their Thursday letter.

“We are also concerned that any potential benefits of the environment chapter will be overwhelmed by the negative impacts of other provisions in the pact,” they said, referring to their concerns about the agreement’s provisions on foreign investment, plant and animal food safety and coherence to regulations, among other pieces.

Green groups’ initial reaction to the agreement has been very negative, aligning with how environmentalists generally view free-trade agreements.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership would empower big polluters to challenge climate and environmental safeguards in private trade courts and would expand trade in dangerous fossil fuels that would increase fracking and imperil our climate,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement when the initial details were released in October.

“The TPP’s environment chapter might look nice on the surface but will be hollow on the inside, and history gives us no reason to believe that TPP rules on conservation challenges such as the illegal timber or wildlife trade will ever be enforced,” he said.

In their new letter, the greens said they want to make sure that the agreement includes all of the environmental protections that Democrats negotiated with the George W. Bush administration in 2007, holding countries in free-trade agreements to international treaties on endangered species, whaling, marine species, ozone layer protections and other pacts.

The groups also want strong rules on prohibition in the trade of illegal timber and wildlife, harmful fishing, whaling and rules related to climate change.

They demanded that the enforcement mechanisms be strong and meaningful and that the rights of foreign investors to challenge domestic environmental laws be struck.

Additionally, the groups want the agreement to avoid invalidating current United States rules on subjects like restricting exports of fossil fuels, product labeling or environmental protections.

This story was updated at 2:48 p.m.