Environment in the Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Legal Analysis

Date period
13 December 2016

The 12 Pacific Rim countries that have signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam – are vulnerable to environmental stress, but also strategically well-positioned to address many of these issues through trade policy. Indeed, the TPP includes a comprehensive environment chapter that affirms the parties’ “strong commitment to protecting and conserving the environment” and stipulates both general commitments and substantive obligations. For example, it reaffirms parties’ commitments to a number of multilateral environmental agreements, takes an important step in advancing efforts to restore and sustainably develop fisheries, and is the first trade agreement to address fisheries subsidies. Whereas climate change is not explicitly referenced, energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure development, and deforestation are listed as areas of interest for potential transnational cooperation.

Beyond the agreement’s immediate implications for the TPP parties in the area of environment, the pact could have significant impacts on other countries, multilateral trade efforts, and sustainable development. First, the TPP likely sets the benchmark for environmental issues in future trade deals. Second, as the group includes both developed and developing countries it represents a diverse set of interests and concerns which could strengthen or otherwise expand existing alliances in other trade forums where countries negotiate issues in the trade-environment intersection. Third, there is considerable potential for additional countries in the region to join the TPP. 

The objective of this paper is therefore to provide policymakers in the fields of trade and sustainable development with a brief overview of the main elements and potential implications of the environmental aspects of the TPP. It does so by exploring and discussing the different sections of the environment chapter, and by highlighting the main innovations and possible impacts regarding trade and environmental issues.