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Canada Risking Environment By Playing Along With Trans Pacific Partnership

The recent leak of the environmental chapter of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a massive free trade deal being negotiated by 14 countries, including Canada — only serves to strengthen the argument that such economic deals pose a threat to the environment.
 
That's the message being sent by Canadian environment and trade activists following Wikileaks' release of the secret draft chapter in early January.
 
The TPP has been in the works since 2010 and encompasses many of the largest economies on the Pacific rim, including  Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Its breadth and scope is being compared to trade agreements like the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the Security and Prosperity Partnership, both of which were sunk due to political deadlock and public opposition.

 
Little is known about the TPP apart from some broad details since, as with most trade agreements, it is negotiated behind closed doors until it is submitted to parliament for review. Many civil society groups have called for more openness so the public can weigh in on what is being decided. Wikileaks has taken up this cause, vowing to release any documents it can access; last November, the whistleblower group also leaked the TPP's Intellectual Property Rights chapter.
 
So what does the environmental chapter tell us?
 
"Clearly what the document shows is that everything is on the table with this government, which could lead to significant changes to environmental regulations in Canada. That's not something [government negotiators] have the mandate to do," John Bennett, president of Sierra Club Canada, told DeSmog Canada.
 
"Our concern is not so much what will change [because of the environment chapter], but what isn't there. These are very weak regulations, superceded by other parts of the document," he said.
 
Green Party MP Elizabeth May and Council of Canadians campaigner Stuart Trew echo those sentiments.
 
"[What the leak shows us is that] Canada is taking its typical position when it comes to the place of the environment in trade deals, which is that they make a lot of nice noises about protecting the environment and making sure trade is sustainable, but they're not intersted in forcing that," Trew told DeSmog. "They're not interested in really getting serious with reducing emissions or holding governments to account for breaking their own environmental laws."
 
Upon releasing the leaked chapter, Wikileaks also published an analysis by New Zealand trade expert and academic Jane Kelsey. In it, she highlights the United States is an "outlier" in these negotiations — pushing for more stringent environmental regulations and enforcement mechanisms, and being pulled back by other parties.
 
At issue, Kelsey writes, is that the U.S. is pushing for the same binding arbitration process that regulates economic disputes arising from the treaty to apply to the environment chapter. No other country, including Canada, is in favour of such a stipulation.
 
"I think the TPP has shown us that there is quite a bit of pressure on the Obama administration to do better for the environment, to treat violations of the environmental chapter as strictly as, and using the same dispute process as, what exists in the TPP for other chapters. Canada is very much opposed to doing that," Trew said.
 
A trade agreement isn't necessarily the right place to negotiate environmental safeguards, Trew said, but the issue is that other aspects of the trade agreement, such as rules to protect the interests of investors and corporations, offer more robust enforcement mechanisms, rendering trade agreements more potent than multilateral agreements meant to protect the environment, such as the Kyoto Accord. 
 
None of this is surprising, Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May said. Trade negotiations have traditionally included weak wording around environmental regulations, but what is concerning is that the environment component of the TPP appears even weaker than previous agreements, she said.
 
In the past two years, leaked government documents have shown an increase in international lobbying pressure from the Canadian government on behalf of Canadian extractive industries, including oil, gas and mining. 
 
"There's always been an aspect of Canadian diplomacy helping resource industries. But I've never seen anything to the degree of the tax dollars now being spent by the government," May said.
 
On January 31, the Council of Canadians participated in a North America-wide day of action to mark the anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement — which marked the start of large, corporate focused free-trade agreements in the Americas — and to raise the alarm about the TPP. Even so, for a treaty that's been in negotiations for four years, there has been little public outcry. That's not surprising, Trew said, since the lack of public information means there is little to concretely organize around. 
 
Trew, May and Bennett all see the real possibility of growing public outcry over the TPP as more details are leaked. However, how to engage in the debate is an open question.
 
"We are concerned that the important contribution that civil society has made to the development of protecting the environment and our resources is being deliberately eroded, and international trade agreements are part of that whole process," Bennett contends. "We have to figure out where we fit in and what we can best be effective at — and that's a complicated question these days."

Tim McSorley is a freelance journalist and editor with Media Co-op.ca. He lives in Montreal.

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