Trans-Pacific Partnership pact clinched, fisheries subsidies cuts targeted

14 October 2015

A new mega-regional trade deal addresses a range of new "21st century" regulatory areas including, among others, environment and conservation issues. 

Ministers from 12 Pacific Rim countries concluded a sweeping trade and investment pact on Monday 5 October, following several days of frenzied negotiations and sleepless nights in the US city of Atlanta to bring the agreement across the finish line. With the talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) now complete, participating countries are gearing up to face their next big challenge: building public support and ratifying the pact’s terms in their domestic legislatures.

The Atlanta ministerial meeting, originally set for 30 September through 1 October following several days of chief negotiators’ discussions, was extended repeatedly as officials worked to reach the long-awaited deal, with the talks finally closing in the early morning hours.

“After more than five years of intensive negotiations, we have come to an agreement that will support jobs, drive sustainable growth, foster inclusive development, and promote innovation across the Asia-Pacific region,” ministers for the TPP countries said in a press release announcing the deal’s conclusion.

The officials affirmed that the final agreement is one that is “ambitious, comprehensive, high standard, and balanced,” arguing that the terms will be a boon to their countries’ respective citizens, which in total number nearly 800 million people.

The 12 countries involved – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam – constitute nearly 40 percent of the global economy, making the sheer size of the agreement the largest of its kind outside the multilateral WTO.

The TPP will also set new rules for these 12 participants in areas ranging from environmental and labour protections to the treatment of state-owned enterprises and e-commerce. It will equally provide significant market access openings, eliminating or reducing tariffs on approximately 18,000 tariff lines.

While much of the details of the outcome are now coming to light, the full terms of the agreement are not yet public, given that the document now must undergo a legal review, verification, and translation. Officials say that they hope to release the text in the near future, noting that the agreement will have to be public for several weeks or months – depending on the domestic requirements of different participating economies – before being considered for ratification.

Environment chapter in detail

Among the 30 chapters covering trade and trade-related issues, the deal includes an environment chapter designed to cement parties “strong commitment to protecting and conserving” natural resources, according to a US Trade Representative (USTR) summary. The environment chapter reportedly provides opportunities for the 12 TPP parties to cooperate on certain key challenges with international scope and those relevant to trade flows.

TPP participants recommit in the environment chapter to fulfilling obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in order to boost efforts to tackle illegal trade in wild animals and plants. Many experts have said that demand for ivory and rhino horn in several East-Asian markets, including some TPP parties such as Vietnam, has driven a voracious poaching of Africa’s iconic mega-fauna in recent years.

Efforts will also reportedly be made under the deal to promote the conservation of important marine species and to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies that lead to overfishing as well as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. In addition, participants reportedly agree on protecting the marine environment from ship pollution.

TPP participants account for eight of the world’s top 20 fishing nations. Some experts have speculated that disciplines on fisheries subsidies in the new regional agreement might help to unlock talks in this area at the multilateral level. Within the context of the WTO’s broader Doha Round, a “Rules Negotiating Group” is tasked with improving global trade disciplines in key areas, including the possible establishment of these for fisheries subsidies.

While several proposals have been put forward in this area in recent months – with some stakeholders suggesting this represents a significant reinvigoration of momentum in an area that had previously stalled along with the rest of the Doha Development Agenda – uncertainty nevertheless remains on how the issue fits into the broader level of ambition for the talks. (See BioRes, 8 July 2015)

Alongside reaffirming commitments to implement multilateral environment agreements (MEAs) they have joined, and other pledges to provide transparency related to environmental decision-making, participants will also seek public input on the implementation of the TPP’s environment chapter. An Environment Committee will be established to oversee this process.

The TPP has been famously controversial since the negotiations began, drawing the scepticism – and, in some cases, ire – of several green groups who question whether the terms of the deal are sufficient to ensure environmental protection.

As expected, news of the TPP’s completion met a varied reception among the environment community.  The US-based Sierra Club suggested the deal’s conservation provisions might end up proving rather shallow, while international environment group the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed the environment chapter as being one of the most forward-thinking seen in trade deals to date.

Some lobby groups such as 350.org said that final deal will reportedly limit USTR’s ability to pursue climate measures through trade agreements, however, and labelled the development a “disaster for climate change.” Green campaigner Naomi Klein also hit out against the agreement, suggesting that it harked back to a purported de-prioritisation of the environment in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed in 1994, a regional deal many trade watchers at that time estimated was a game changer for international economic relations. 

The environment chapter will be subject to a dispute settlement procedure as outlined in the dispute settlement chapter. The latter proved among the most publically-contentious issues during the negotiations, with some groups fearing the TPP would allow investors and multinationals power to challenge domestic environmental protection legislation.

According to the provisions outlined in the dispute settlement chapter, TPP dispute proceedings and reports will be open to the public, and written views from non-governmental entities located in the territory of disputing party will be considered in the process.

International trade implications

The TPP deal has been dubbed by many of its proponents – as well as some of its detractors – as being “transformational” not just for the Asia-Pacific region, but also for the global economy. Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb is among those who have said that the deal is the “most significant” since the Uruguay Round talks that established the WTO were finalised 20 years ago. 

So-called mega-regional deals like the TPP has nonetheless also sparked questions over whether these agreements sap away energy needed for multilateral negotiations and potentially create overlapping, confusing systems of rules – or if these processes can instead be complementary to one another.

A more-detailed analysis of the TPP is available in ICTSD’s flagship publication, Bridges Weekly, focused on regular international trade news and sustainable development.

ICTSD reporting; CLIMATE PROGRESS.

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