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Environmental Agencies Voice Concerns of Ambiguous Provisions in Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been put under scrutiny by many environmental protection agencies who do not believe the agreement does enough to protect the oceans and illegal trafficking of endangered species.

On Oct. 5, 2015, 12 Pacific-Rim nations, including the United States and Japan, agreed on the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership after over five years of negotiations.

Some environmental agencies including Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth argue that the language behind its environmental chapter is too ambiguous and does not do enough to protect oceans and wildlife.

While the trade agreement has promised to benefit all nations involved, its reception has not been all positive. In the U.S., democrats and republicans alike have opposed the agreement, insisting that it will not benefit domestic industries and labor force.

"There is a wild disparity between the promises that are being made about this trade agreement and the reality of the words on the paper and the history of free trade agreements," said the Director of the Responsible Trade program for Sierra Club Ilana Solomon. She has been with the trade program for over three years.

Solomon compared the TPP's environmental chapter with the environmental provisions put in place for the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 under the Clinton administration.

According to Solomon, the TPP favors international corporations and limits the power of governments within the agreement to implement clean energy legislation.

The TPP would include a provision on fair and equitable treatment which, in its simplest form, states that multinational corporations have to be treated fairly in all 12 TPP nations. Provisions like these are meant to encourage foreign investment and assure corporations that they will not be discriminated against.

"If newer policy is introduced and a company believes that it violated one of its rights, like fair and equitable agreement, it can then sue the government in a private trade tribunal which is essentially unlimited cash compensation over the latter policy," said Solomon.

Fair and equitable treatment has been used in the past by corporations to sue governments trying to introduce green policies, which is one of many concerns Sierra Club has with the TPP. In 2013 an oil and gas company, Lone Pine, sued Canada for $250 million arguing that their ban on fracking under the Saint

Lawrence River violated the fair and equitable treatment provision put forth by NAFTA.

Friends of Earth Trade Policy Analyst Bill Waren, also a law graduate from Duke, calls the TPP "A classic example of corporate capture of policy process."

"I'm very worried about the Technical Barriers to Trade chapter.... This is the chapter that will essentially hamstring the capacity of governments in the United States and around the Pacific Rim to regulate dangerous chemicals of the kinds that cause cancer and autism and birth defects," said Waren.

Waren also expressed concern in the TPP's investment chapter which authorizes corporations to sue governments under equitable treatment provisions.

The TTP's environmental chapter rules that all members must abide by the obligations put forth by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and prohibit the use of harmful fishing subsidies.

Obligations put forth by CITES to be fulfilled by all 12 nations only include the protection and conservation of iconic species such as elephants and rhinos.

Thus far, only two pages worth of provisions on the environmental chapter have been released by the U.S. Trade Representative. Out of these provisions only two specific legislations are clearly stated. These include: "the elimination of tariffs on environmentally-beneficial products and technologies" and obligations from CITES.

The TPP has also promised the inclusion of "pioneering commitments to combat illegal fishing, wildlife trafficking and illegal logging, as well as the first-ever commitments to prohibit some of the most harmful fisheries subsidies."

The agreement is set to cover over 40 percent of the world's economy, will set new trade standards and eliminate over 18,000 tax laws and tariffs across all 12 countries involved.

Both Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club have stated they are alarmed by the amount of secrecy that these negotiations have been taken place under for the last five years. To them, an agreement with such impact as the TPP is something which the public should be aware of, as it covers everything from the environment to trade and intellectual property.

The TPP has been negotiated for over five years and includes: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, The United States, Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Singapore and New Zealand.

It is still unclear whether or not congress will approve this legislation. Both labor and environmental agencies have stated that they believe the partnerships would only benefit international corporations.