Wikileaks’ latest disclosure of Trans Pacific Partnership documents underscores how weak the environmental measures are, and that the environment is a major casualty under the agreement.

The leaked environment chapter shows only minimal gains are proposed and these are far outweighed by the harm the trade deal will do by holding back needed environmental reform.

Discussion over the minor conservation upgrades can take peoples’ eye off the main game – that the TPP hands the power to foreign investors to sue a government in an offshore tribunal if it reduces investor profits by newly protecting the environment. That’s what is at stake – not whether a particular deal is done on turtles or shark fining.  It’s about a change in the balance of power for protecting the environment overall, and the TPP is bad news on that count.

While the TPP specifies aggressive standards on commercial issues that matter to foreign investors – such as protection of patents – when it comes to protection of the environment, the TPP just requires countries to enforce their own environmental laws, whatever standard they may set.  And this obligation applies only if those laws are affecting trade or investment.

The US had originally proposed to get specific on standards by using the TPP to enforce seven selected international environmental agreements.  These seven treaties are far from the most important of the more than 230 multilateral environmental agreements.  However all other countries rightly reject this proposal as they do not consider it “appropriate” to use a regional trade deal to enforce obligations negotiated through the United Nations.

Other obligations in the environment chapter are also not enforceable in the way commercial provisions in the TPP are to be enforceable

Meanwhile in the TPP’s key investment chapter, the environment is a major casualty.  That chapter allows a foreign investor to take a government to an offshore tribunal if environmental standards are raised in a way that hurts foreign investor profits.

It costs US$8 million on average just to show up for such a case and the risk that a government would have to pay out millions of dollars if it lost tends to hold it back from acting to address environmental degradation.  In cases where governments have been successfully sued under US trade agreements, natural resources and the environment are most often at stake.


For more information on the investment chapter provisions, see our recent oped.