[A2k] New York Times: Administration Is Seen as Retreating on Environment in Talks on Pacific Trade

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Jan 15 03:08:23 PST 2014


Administration Is Seen as Retreating on Environment in Talks on Pacific

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is retreating from previous demands
of strong international environmental protections in order to reach
agreement on a sweeping Pacific trade deal that is a pillar of President
Obama’s strategic shift to Asia, according to documents obtained by
WikiLeaks, environmentalists and people close to the contentious trade

The negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would be one of
the world’s biggest trade agreements, have exposed deep rifts over
environmental policy between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim
nations. As it stands now, the documents, viewed by The New York Times,
show that the disputes could undo key global environmental protections.

The environmental chapter of the trade deal has been among the most highly
disputed elements of negotiations in the pact. Participants in the talks,
which have dragged on for three years, had hoped to complete the deal by
the end of 2013.

Environmentalists said that the draft appears to signal that the United
States will retreat on a variety of environmental protections — including
legally binding pollution control requirements and logging regulations and
a ban on harvesting sharks’ fins — to advance a trade deal that is a top
priority for Mr. Obama.


The documents consist of the environmental chapter as well as a “Report
from the Chairs,” which offers an unusual behind-the-scenes look into the
divisive trade negotiations, until now shrouded in secrecy. The report
indicates that the United States has been pushing for tough environmental
provisions, particularly legally binding language that would provide for
sanctions against participating countries for environmental violations. The
United States is also insisting that the nations follow existing global
environmental treaties.

But many of those proposals are opposed by most or all of the other Pacific
Rim nations working on the deal, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada,
Mexico, Chile, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Peru.
Developing Asian countries, in particular, have long resisted outside
efforts to enforce strong environmental controls, arguing that they could
hurt their growing economies.

The report appears to indicate that the United States is losing many of
those fights, and bluntly notes the rifts: “While the chair sought to
accommodate all the concerns and red lines that were identified by parties
regarding the issues in the text, many of the red lines for some parties
were in direct opposition to the red lines expressed by other parties.”

As of now, the draft environmental chapter does not require the nations to
follow legally binding environmental provisions or other global
environmental treaties. The text notes only, for example, that pollution
controls could vary depending on a country’s “domestic circumstances and


But in May 2007, President George W. Bush struck an environmental deal with
Democrats in the Senate and the House as he sought to move a free-trade
agreement with Peru through Congress. In what became known as the May 10
Agreement, Democrats got Mr. Bush to agree that all American free-trade
deals would include a chapter with environmental provisions, phrased in the
same legally binding language as chapters on labor, agriculture and
intellectual property. The Democrats also insisted that the chapter require
nations to recognize existing global environmental treaties.


Since then, every American free-trade deal has included that strong
language, although all have been between the United States and only one
other country. It appears to be much tougher to negotiate environmental
provisions in a 12-nation agreement.

“Bilateral negotiations are a very different thing,” said Jennifer
Haverkamp, the former head of the United States trade representative’s
environmental office. “Here, if the U.S. is the only one pushing for this,
it’s a real uphill battle to get others to agree if they don’t like it.”


Since the trade talks began, lawmakers and advocacy groups have assailed
the negotiators for keeping the process secret, and WikiLeaks has been
among the most critical voices. The environment chapter is the third in a
series of Trans-Pacific Partnership documents released by WikiLeaks. In
November, the group posted the draft chapter on intellectual property. In
December, the site posted documents detailing disagreements between the
negotiating parties on other issues. The site is expected to release more
documents as the negotiations unfold.

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