Trade Issues Heat Up — A New TPP Leak, “Fast-Track” Bill

WikiLeaks on January 15 leaked another chapter of the negotiation text of a major trade agreement – the environmental chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Environmental groups jumped on the text and said the U.S. position outlined in the documents shows backward steps in areas such as enforcement of environmental provisions and deference to multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).

According to an article in the New York Times, the U.S. seems to be pushing for more extensive environmental provisions, but the other eleven negotiating parties are pushing back, arguing that such provisions would hamper needed growth in their countries.

For example, in the Chairs’ summary of different countries’ views on incorporating measures in TPP to fulfill specific MEAs and making those enforceable, only the U.S. supported that position. Ten of the twelve countries thought otherwise and indicated that since those agreements were negotiated in different circumstances, those obligations shouldn’t be subject to dispute settlement in TPP.

In an apparent reaction to the leaks and to negative reaction from environmental activists, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative late Wednesday afternoon issued a press release stating its strong commitment to the environmental chapter:

The United States’ position on the environment in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is this: environmental stewardship is a core American value, and we will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement.

The release went on to state:

In December the trade ministers of the 12 TPP countries met for three days to tackle tough issues together, including in the environment chapter. There, the United States reiterated our bedrock position on enforceability of the entire environment chapter, as well as our strong commitments to provisions such as those combating wildlife trafficking and illegal logging.

The administration is undoubtedly uneasy about opposition to this agreement and some negative reaction to the release last week of the new “fast track” legislative package — the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014. This act would provide that trade agreements would get voted up or down without amendments as long as the act’s mandates and procedures are followed. And those mandates in 107 pages detail Congress’ objectives in trade agreements on such issues as labor and environmental standards, currency manipulation, and enforceable rules against barriers to U.S. agriculture. It also includes new procedures for how Congress should be consulted on trade agreements – what the sponsors termed “strict requirements for Congressional consultations and access to information.”

It is a continuing onslaught on trade agreements as repositories for non-trade issues. Including those issues introduces unneeded complexities and special interests’ pleadings. Many of those issues have their own international fora specifically designed to consider those specialized areas.

Trade involves an exchange of goods and services by buyers and sellers that benefits both parties. Increased trade can lead to economic growth for all parties to trade agreements. That growth can lead to improved labor conditions and environmental improvements. Derailing agreements by forcing other issues to be equally considered can curtail that growth and indeed impede progress in those other areas.