Trade Trumps Climate: The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Oct 8th, 2015 | By | Category: Economics and GDP

By Suzanne York


It’s ironic that while much attention is focused on getting to a climate agreement in Paris that at the same time the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being negotiated.  On the one hand you have efforts to reduce global carbon emissions as a means to protect people and the environment.  On the other hand, you have yet another global trade pact that conflicts with much of the climate goals.

Some day, global society is going to look back at this time and think humans of the early 21st century were crazy.  How can we seriously protect the planet if we are ramping up a trade system reliant on fossil fuels, consumption and ever more growth?

The TPP is an expansion of our current model of trade—a flawed model that means increased threats to our clean air and water, more jobs going overseas to the lowest bidders and huge barriers to action on climate change.

The TPP just wrapped up negotiations amongst the twelve participating countries.  Now it goes to Congress for approval, some time early next year.  Under the fast-track trade rules, the deal will be subject to an up or down vote in Congress  – no debate.

Environmentalists Say No to the TPP

Some of the news out of the last negotiating round hail big environmental achievements (such as against wildlife trafficking), but like most things associated with free trade, it’s likely to be just words. More than a dozen leading environmental organizations have come out against the TPP.

According to Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club:

There’s little reason to believe that the rules in the environment chapter that deal with challenges such as illegal timber and wildlife trade would lead to meaningful changes on the ground. The U.S. is not known for holding other countries accountable in failing to live up to environmental commitments made in trade pacts. The U.S. has a pact with Peru, for instance, aimed at stopping illegal timber trade between the two countries. Yet illegal logging and associated trade are still rampant, and no one has been held accountable for violating the deal. That’s not the model of trade we want to replicate.

And Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said:

Conservation provisions in the TPP environment chapter are narrow and will not be enforced. The TPP as a whole is a frontal assault on environmental and climate safeguards. The TPP investment chapter would allow firms to sue governments for billions if climate or environmental rules interfere with corporate profits. The TPP would stymie effective regulation of chemicals and food safety. It would expand US fossil fuel exports across the Pacific.

Power to the Corporations

There has been much secrecy around the TPP.  The text has not yet been officially released; thus far WikiLeaks has released sections of the agreement.  The U.S. promises to release the text in the next month.  If it’s so great for the world, why the secrecy?  Well, at least for everyone but corporations; there have been some 600 corporate advisors with access to the text, while the public, congressional representatives, journalists, and civil society are excluded.

The TPP contains a rule called investor-state dispute settlement, which allows foreign corporations to sue governments in private trade tribunals over policies that could threaten corporate profits.

This investor-state process is working great for corporations, enabling them to wipe out pesky environmental protections – see this factsheet for a current case being “settled” under NAFTA.  How does this relate to climate?  Corporations have launched hundreds of lawsuits in similar trade deals, increasingly focusing their attacks on clean energy and environmental programs.

Council of Canadians Chair Maude Barlow stated that “many of the same countries pledging to take serious action on climate change are also party to, or are aggressively negotiating, trade and investment deals…So the stage is set for a conflict. If the parties come to a meaningful agreement on climate change in Paris, for it to be successful each country will have to take the promises home to their own legislatures and change laws and practices accordingly. Yet the ISDS ‘rights’ of foreign corporations to challenge any changes that might negatively impact their profits are strongly entrenched in international trade law. In other words, the power of corporations to use ISDS could strongly undermine any agreement made in Paris if corporations decide to fight the necessary resulting regulatory changes.”

It’s up to us to citizens to create the world we want, not corporations, or the 1%.  The TPP is just business as usual and sadly it conflicts with global goals of coping with the impacts of a changing climate, as well as supporting human rights.


A New Vision for Trade

Here are a few things to do to take action:

  • Sign up to attend an October 14 climate day of action, and include responsible trade into your action.
  • Meet with your member of Congress to thank those who have advocated responsible trade, and stress to others why the TPP is disastrous for the climate and communities The next recess, when members will be back in their districts, is October 10-19.
  • Write an op-ed or LTE in a local paper

If  government, business, and citizens are serious about tackling climate change, then the trade system has to be revised, or perhaps a better word is, reimagined.   A new model of trade is needed, not more of the same modeled after the failure of NAFTA that cost jobs and still undermines critical environmental protections. Trade should not trump climate at a time when the world is trying to come together on serious measures to protect the planet.


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies.

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