Proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership say the 12-country trade agreement announced last week will create jobs and boost GDP, with forestry and mining sectors being among its biggest cheerleaders.
But what does it mean for the environment?
Early indications are that the environment is not a loser — or a clear winner — though by the Canadian government’s own assessment, the increase in economic growth resulting from the deal will lead to a “minor” increase in greenhouse-gas emissions, energy use and water use in Canada.
Across the entire trading block, however, the environmental benefits could potentially be much larger if it forces developing countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam to take environmental protection more seriously.
“This agreement is probably two steps forward for the economy and trade, and one step forward for the environment,” said Stewart Elgie, a professor of environmental law at the University of Ottawa. “It doesn’t seem to do anything to raise the level of environmental protection, but it doesn’t seem to lower the bar, either.”
According to a high-level summary, the agreement targets illegal fishing, logging, and trade of fauna and flora while also promoting sustainable forest management and fishing practices. It aims for protection of specially protected natural areas, including shared oceans, and seeks to eliminate subsidies that lead to overfishing and market distortions that harm the environment.
Protecting the ozone layer and tackling ship pollution are also in the text, as well as a commitment by all signatories to co-operatively tackle other “matters of joint or common interest” — from protecting biodiversity to helping trade partners “transition to low-emissions and resilient economies.”
Elgie, who emphasized that the final details will matter, said the agreement has the potential to raise the bar on environmental performance and at minimum requires each country to enforce existing national laws and obligations under other environmental treaties.
“What you don’t want is for countries to use weak environmental standards to lower their costs of goods,” said Elgie, pointing to the European Union as a model for how environmental standards can be lifted through effectively crafted trade agreements.
Scott Vaughan, president and chief executive officer of the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development, described environmental considerations in the TPP as “generally positive” while acknowledge that “nothing is ever perfect.”
“The TPP is carving out a special role for (sustainability) standards,” prevalence of which has grown at a rate of 40 per cent annually, he said. “There’s an opportunity here to build upon this trend.”
Some environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, aren’t convinced. Their big worry is a perceived inability to enforce environmental rules laid out in the agreement, as well as provisions that allow companies to sue countries with environmental regulations that harm their profits.
“Corporations have used investor-state dispute settlement provisions to challenge environmental, land-use, energy, and other socially beneficial laws passed by democratically elected governments,” it said.
Elgie agreed that this is a concern, as it has been under NAFTA, because it creates a “chill” on environmental regulations.