By Martin J. Frid
The Asia-Pacific Journal: January 27, 2014
WikiLeaks has done it again – made available important documents that governments and corporate interests have tried to keep secret from the general public. Until this new release, we had almost no idea what was going on within the secret Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations involving an extraordinarily diverse group of 12 large and small as well as rich and poor nations of East and Southeast Asia, Australasia, and North and South America. The twelve are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United State and Vietnam, with the US driving the agenda. South Korea and Taiwan have also indicated that they may want to join. This time, we get a glimpse of the status of the Environment Chapter with important implications for the people and nature of the region. Wikileaks Press Release
In this cartoon accompanying the release, WikiLeaks shows Mickey Mouse crossing his fingers while promising that “Of course, the environment is in the TPP!” Note the corporate logos symbolizing Texaco and Apple, while the (usually copyrighted) Disney character is singing his merry tune to the crowd of birds and geese (or are they ducks?) representing environmental organization. Crossing fingers can mean wishing for luck but, of course, it also signifies breaking a promise. How appropriate.
We have been told by its proponents that TPP is about reducing and eliminating “trade barriers” and making the world a better place, at least for countries that sign up for this deal. Critics of TPP have responded that it will destroy small-scale agriculture, tighten the corporate grip over intellectual property rights and subvert democratic rule-making. Many people have participated in large-scale protests, including in Japan. It has been difficult, however, to discern the nature of the agreement, since documents have been kept hidden from the general public throughout the protracted negotiations.
In 2010 when the debate about TPP as another Free Trade Agreement started in earnest in Japan, long-term trade critic Yamaura Yasuaki noted: “First of all, we note the negative results that FTA has brought. Examples include environmental destruction and the effect on wildlife as tropical forests have been cut down for palm oil production, and worsening conditions for factory workers as developing countries compete to increase exports at the lowest possible price. From many regions, there are also worrying reports of how staple food production has been sacrificed to export-oriented food production. Moreover, large investments and the expansion of financing have led to deprivation and debt in developing countries. Deregulation and free trade is also the main factor behind the collapse of the industrial order here in Japan, and we consider it directly responsible for deteriorating labour conditions.”
By early 2014 observers were wondering whether significant progress was indeed being made, and what direction TPP would eventually take. How would this trade pact influence obligations to protect the environment and health? Since this is not being negotiated in a transparent way, would the new trade regime undermine efforts to deal with climate change and loss of biological diversity? Enter WikiLeaks on January 15 with the release of a very important report from the chair of one of the many working groups, dealing with the Environment Chapter. WikiLeaks has previously released other documents, including an earlier draft of the Chapter on Intellectual Property Rights, that the US had proposed, which the other countries rejected. The IP Chapter has been seen as a being so contentious that it was holding up the entire process. Now we learn that there is just as much controversy surrounding the Environment Chapter.
TPP has been billed as an ambitious, 21st-century trade agreement. To live up to this, environmental organizations including the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club have insisted that any new trade rules set up a mechanism for dealing with trade in products such as timber or species of animals or plants that are considered rare and near extinction. And many international treaties and conventions have been carefully negotiated elsewhere (usually under United Nations auspices) to make the world a better place by safeguarding the environment. Would TPP overrule these other treaties and conventions? Or might it establish better, more effective environmental protection? The Wikileaks revelations provide the first clear answers to these questions.
One problem is that the United States, the driving force in the negotiations, has not ratified several of the most important recent treaties pertaining to the environment, including the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or the UN Climate Change Convention (FCCC). Another problem is that TPP involves both developed and developing economies, with different priorities.
(read the full article at The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus)
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