In new Pacific trade talks leak, “climate” becomes the unmentionable
Time to get excited, everyone: There’s a freshly leaked document from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in town, courtesy of the Peruvian website Redge.org. The mega-secretive, three-years-in-the-making international trade deal that would create a NAFTA-style agreement among the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam (and maybe, just maybe, China …) has only had three other documents leaked over the past four years.
The previous leaks have been enough to send an eclectic range of Americans into apoplexy — civil liberties folks, workers rights folks, farmers, Tea Partiers, and public health advocates. Mostly this is because of the treaty’s investments chapter — which, like NAFTA, would allow any company based in one member country that has an investment in another member country to sue that country in a secret tribunal if its rules covering things like civil liberties, workers’ rights, environmental standards, or public health mess with the litigant’s profitability.
But the agreement also has an environmental chapter, which was leaked this January. The chapter was supposed to establish a pragmatic set of standards among the trade partners as to what constituted acceptable environmental regulations and what kinds of things they should work together to make sure they don’t run out of: fish; the air; the planet; rare and endangered animals; trees.
Instead, the leaked draft was a collection of vague, unenforceable statements, asking that its signatories do things like “make best efforts to refrain” from overfishing. Missing from it were any penalties or sanctions — all a country found to be violating these principles would have to do is promise to work toward changing its ways.
The latest leak is a set of proposed revisions to the language of the environmental chapter, written by the negotiators for the United States. How is America doing? If the leaked documents are authentic, America is being a jerk.
The previous draft had a vague agreement to “acknowledge climate change as a global concern that requires collective action, and recognize the importance of implementation of their respective commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).” Under the proposed U.S. revision, the parties instead “affirm the importance of moving towards low-emissions economies.” That’s it. No mention of what a low-emissions economy might be. No mention of the UNFCC, whose agreements are non-binding and largely ineffectual but still represent the closest thing the world has to a global climate change policy. The U.S.’s proposed revisions scrub the words “climate change” from the text of the chapter.
“The U.S. made an already weak text even weaker,” said Ilana Solomon, director of the Responsible Trade Program for the Sierra Club. “I’m very disappointed.”
The TPP faces mounting speculation that it’s in trouble. President Obama spoke glowingly of it during his 2013 State of the Union Address a little over a year ago, but neglected to mention it at the 2014 event last month. This may have had something to do with the fact that, a few months earlier, 151 Democrats in Congress published an open letter declaring their opposition to granting the president the “Fast Track” ability that made the passage of NAFTA, and so many trade agreements after it, possible. Since then, Senate majority leader Harry Reid has said that he will oppose Fast Track. Last week, Nancy Pelosi did the same.
According to U.S. trade representative Michael Froman, hopes were high that the TPP’s members could agree on a final draft by the end of the year. That didn’t happen. The next meeting is in Singapore this month, from Feb. 22 through 25. In the meantime, this leak has given us a window onto the priorities of U.S. trade representatives. In a world where most international bodies have figured out that it’s OK to pay the climate issue lip service as long as you don’t do anything concrete about it, the American trade delegation is reverting to old-school denial — as if, as long as we don’t mention it, maybe the problem will just go away.