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Obama Administration Pushes Back Against Environmental Criticism Touting “Trade For a Greener World”

Posted May 22, 2015

Facing a barrage of criticism from the green activist community, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office and the State Department issued a new report this week titled “Standing Up For The Environment: Trade For A Greener World” highlighting the Obama administration’s commitment to strong environmental provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“Today’s environmental challenges are global in nature and require an international response,” reads the report’s introduction. “Strong environmental protections in trade agreements, like the ones we’re negotiating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement can be a key part of this response.”

In the TPP trade negotiation process, the administration claims it is on track to establish new commitments and “groundbreaking prohibitions” to protect marine life from overfishing and harmful fisheries subsidies. The agreement it claims will also ensure that countries effectively enforce their conservation laws, live up to their international commitments to protect endangered species and create new tools to combat wildlife trafficking.

“Once implemented, TPP will help protect one of the most ecologically and economically significant regions of the world — from the deserts and plains of Australia, to the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam, to the Andes mountains of Peru,” USTR says in the 64-page report.

The report notes that unlike past international agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement where country-specific environmental guidelines were bolted on as an afterthought, environmental provisions are core to the body of the new trade deals and require that participating countries adopt laws and regulations which fulfill obligations under various multilateral environmental agreements such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Montreal protocol which covers ozone-depleting substances, and the MARPOL agreement which governs marine pollution from ships.

Far from selling out the environment, officials say, the president is utilizing trade as a lever to achieve far-reaching aims that will ultimately leave the environment in far better shape across a wide array of nations. A number of prominent conservation groups, including the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy, have praised the administration for its pledge to create conservation safeguards in the agreement. Other NGOs however are considerably less sanguine about the potential effects of new free trade deals.

Critics fear they will usher an onslaught of legal challenges intended to undermine public health safeguards and environmental regulations. “Multinational corporations, including some of the planet’s biggest polluters, could use the TPP to sue governments in private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that they claimed would reduce their profits,” warned the Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in a recent blog post claiming that fast-tracking President Obama’s trade deals would lead to “disaster” owing to “perverse rules” sabotaging “the ability of the U.S. (and other nations) to respond to the climate crisis.”