The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Wildlife Trafficking

As President Obama has been pitching the Trans-Pacific Partnership to voters and elected officials, he has meet fierce resistance from some of his fellow Democrats. The trade deal, still in the process of being negotiated, involves at present 12 Asian countries and is meant to facilitate freer trade among them. Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have been leading the charge against the TPP in the Senate, expressing the concern that it is unfair to make American workers compete with cheap foreign labor. The White House, in response, has billed the TPP as “the most progressive trade deal in history”, and one of the reasons why may surprise you: the agreement includes environmental standards that target the illegal wildlife trade.

Because the TPP involves 8 of the top 20 fishing nations and 5 of the world’s 17 “mega-diverse” countries, which boast 70% of the world’s biodiversity, the trade deal affords the U.S. near unprecedented leverage with which to make demands for new wildlife protection. By way of example, one of the U.S.’s demands is for new and unprecedented provisions ending subsidies to the most unsustainable fisheries. Indeed, the environmental commitments are so core to the TPP that the Obama Administration insists that they will be “on equal footing” with the economic obligations of our trading partners.

The White House anticipates that the following species may benefit the most from the TPP: lemurs, Andean mountain cats, hammerhead sharks, elephants, sea turtles, lions, rhinos, star tortoises, and yellow-eared parrots. Many of these are critically endangered species, so I hope for their sake that the U.S. is able to secure aggressive and enforceable wildlife protections through the TPP.

The prospect of increased wildlife protections has excited many wildlife and environmental advocacy nonprofits. Here is what Carter Roberts of the World Wildlife Fund had to say about the TPP:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is one of those potentially game-changing solutions… It’s not often that large-scale opportunities arise to help protect our planet. And surprisingly enough, the TPP, if it is done right, can offer a valuable way forward.

On March 16th, the World Animal Protection International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and The Nature Convservancy wrote a joint letter to President Obama on the TPP. It read, in part:

TPP is a historic opportunity to advance the environmental agenda in a region of critical importance; the Pacific nations are among the most biodiverse on Earth, but overexploitation threatens the long-term prospects for their flora and fauna. We think the TPP environment chapter is headed in the right direction, and if the Administration can deliver on its [environmental] commitment[s]… it will be an important step forward on environmental protection.

And finally, I want to share The Humane Society’s endorsement:

We believe the TPP environment chapter is a critical step forward for wildlife protection. These protections are much needed because wild animals in the Asia-Pacific region are subject to illegal and unsustainable commercial exploitation… We applaud the United States for its leadership in advocating for ambitious TPP provisions to bolster wildlife protection and support biodiversity without encouraging environmental deregulation in the interest of trade and investment.

Not all environmental groups have lined up to support the trade deal, however. Ilana Solomon, speaking as the director of the Sierra Club’s responsible trade unit, said the TPP, “could directly threaten our climate and our environment [including] new rights that would be given to corporations, and new constraints on the fossil fuel industry all have a huge impact on our climate, water, and land.” The Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Wide Fund for Nature have also gone on record with their concerns.

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