Exclusive: Critics say vaunted environmental chapter offers few gains to balance downsides of trade deal

Another leak of documents from inside the secret US-Pacific trade negotiations indicates continued conflict between the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership nations.

This includes the trade agreement's environment chapter, which has been promoted by the Obama Administration as an opportunity to address "some of the most pressing environmental challenges" and as a selling point for the agreement.

However critics say the environmental gains in the chapter turn out to be minimal compared with environmental harm other sections would cause. The US Sierra Club says the TPP would be devastating for the environment and climate, and Friends of the Earth describe it as "a huge danger to the planet".

The confidential trade documents were leaked to the whistle-blowing organisation WikiLeaks and released exclusively to the Herald and media in the US, Australia and Mexico.


The confidential draft chapter and an attached report, written by the Canadian delegation leader, are dated November 24, 2013, the final day of TPP negotiations in Salt Lake City.

The 23-page environment chapter has provisions on biodiversity, climate change, fisheries and illegal trade in endangered plants and animals.

However the leaked text just "recognises" and "acknowledges" some well-established environment treaties, such as on ozone protection and endangered species, and mostly doesn't take them any further. In a document called "TPP State of Play after Salt Lake City", one delegation complained that up until then "there had not been any perceivable substantial movement [from] the US".

It also described conflict at the negotiating meeting over the environment chapter. It said the environment working group meeting "was interrupted because we could not get past the second issue [on] the definition of environmental law".

The documents show New Zealand and the US agree on some issues, including about the need for sustainable fisheries manage-ment.

However even here there is ongoing disagreement about individual clauses and wording, only weeks from when the agreement is supposed to be concluded.

Julian Assange of WikiLeaks said the environment chapter was "meant to be the public friendly sweetener that would compensate for the harshness of the rest of the text" but the leaked text showed it to be a "toothless PR exercise".

There are no mandated environmental protections at all, he said.

Sustainability Council executive director Simon Terry said the agreement was being "sold as protecting the environment" but the leaked chapter showed "minimal real gains for nature".

These were far outweighed by the harm other sections of the agreement would cause.

A key chapter allowed foreign companies to sue the government in an overseas tribunal if it raised environmental standards in a way that hurt foreign investor profits.

The risk of million-dollar lawsuits would discourage governments from addressing environmental problems, with "serious environmental consequences", he said.

A spokeswoman for Trade Minister Tim Groser said the TPP environment chapter would "promote high standards of environmental protection, and enhance the capacity of TPP members to address trade-related environment issues".

Asked if the section would be beneficial for the New Zealand environment, she said that "trade and environmental policies can be and should be mutually supportive".

The deal

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal under negotiation between 12 countries: New Zealand, US, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Australia, Vietnam, Peru, Malaysia, Canada, Mexico and Japan.