Rep. Blumenauer Urges Tougher Environmental Protections In Pacific Trade Deal

Charles Pope, The Oregonian WASHINGTON -- Fifteen House Democrats, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, pressed the White House Tuesday to include tough and enforceable environmental standards in a trade agreement being negotiated with a constellation of Asian nations that includes Australia, Malaysia and Vietnam. The group made the demand in a letter sent to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. In pressing for the protections, the lawmakers noted that trade agreements with Peru, Columbia, Panama and South Korea already include the standards and that adding the language not only protect wildlife, fisheries and forests but could be a boon for U.S. businesses. They also praised the administration for insisting on language that combats illegal trade in wood and wood products, illegal wildlife trade, fisheries subsidies, marine conservation and shark preservation during a negotiating session last month. But they say more is needed. “It is imperative that the May 10th provisions on the environment be included in the TPP,” Blumenauer said in announcing the effort, using short-hand for the agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “These provisions help to build stronger environmental laws around the world, generate sustainable development in all the partner countries, and give force to the President’s call for a high-standards agreement,” he said. The effort is being supported by major environment groups but the outcome is far from certain. Labor and business groups have expressed reservations and political opposition to any trade agreement - regardless of it focus - has been a constant on Capitol Hill for years. The Obama administration is currently failed to ratify major agreement with South Korea and Columbia. All of that influences both the tone and substance of the Pacific trade negotiations. “If not properly managed, free trade agreements can exacerbate the exploitation of already depleted wildlife, fish and forests,” said Todd Shelton, Vice President of U.S. Government Relations at the World Wildlife Fund. “The basic environmental provisions of the May 10th trade deal are essential, at a minimum, to limit the increased pressure from trade on vulnerable species and ecosystems.” The provisions, the lawmakers said in the letter to Kirk, "these provisions protect the environment while simultaneously providing increased market access opportunities, raising standards of living for local communities, and leveling the playing field for U.S. businesses." Blumenauer's involvement should be no surprise. He is a senior member of the committee that handles trade, Ways and Means and when finalized the agreement is expected to boost Oregon's economy. The USTR points out that the nations in the Trans Pacific Partnership, as the trade pact is known, represent 40 percent of the global population. The member-counties also have among the fastest growing economies and most are already major traders with Oregon businesses. Of $14.9 billion in exports from Oregon businesses in 2009, $11.4 billion or 77 percent went to markets in the Asia-Pacific region, according to federal data. The TPP is a multi-layered and evolving trade agreement. includes nations on both sides of the Pacific. The existing TPP, which originally came into effect in 2006, consists of Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. The United States, Australia, Peru, and Vietnam have committed themselves to joining and expanding this group. The third round of discussions among the eight countries took place in Brunei in 2010 during which Malaysia was included in the negotiations. Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam -- have set a goal of reaching a framework deal in time for an Asia-Pacific summit in November in Hawaii. President Barack Obama's administration, which has faced opposition within the Democratic Party on trade, has billed the TPP as a new kind of agreement that protects labor rights and environmental standards. But negotiators have encountered numerous disputes as they negotiate the ambitious agreement that includes highly diverse economies. To give an example of the swirling currents, the 15 lawmakers led by Blumenauer are far smaller than a separate group of 52 lawmakers (26 Democrats and 26 Republicans) who are digging in to ensure that Vietnam does not harm domestic textile concerns. “Noting Vietnam’s non-market economy status and the subsequent inherent advantages provided to its textile and apparel sector, special market access rules should be negotiated,” the 52 House members wrote in their own letter to Kirk earlier this week. The Oregon delegation illustrates the fractured nature of trade. While Blumenauer pushes for an agreement, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has offered legislation that could potentially unravel what he calls “job killing” agreements. A bill he introduced in April would establish a commission to review and report on free trade agreements. The bill would also put a moratorium on new free trade agreements until the commission submits a final report to the president and Congress. And while most economists say a Pacific trade deal would almost certainly benefit Oregon, a “mismanaged” accord may cost jobs in the U.S. textile and apparel industry, the National Textile Association says. Read original post here.