The TPP and the Path Forward for Environmental Conservation

by Amrietha Nellan

The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) Environment Chapter sets a new, high bar for using trade deals to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and promote conservation. The TPP commits members to enact and enforce the preeminent international treaty on endangered wildlife, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). No previous trade deal has included the express ability to impose trade sanctions if a nation fails to meet their responsibilities under CITES. Moreover, the TPP focuses on expanding cooperation to enable countries to more successfully regulate the wildlife trade and preserve biodiversity. Ultimately, the TPP sets a new precedent for using trade agreements to enforce and achieve their environmental conservation commitments, but what does this look like in practice? Let’s take a look at CITES.

CITES is an international agreement that sets up a system to regulate and monitor the legal and illegal trade of wildlife between countries. It determines whether a species is close to extinction and categorizes them into one of three classifications. Plants and animals that are threatened with extinction are generally prohibited from commercial trade. Plants and animals that are at risk of greater future threats or are protected under a country’s domestic law are subject to strict regulation and licensing requirements to ensure hunting practices are legal and pose no risk to the species’ survival.

This regulatory system manages compliance by individual governments through economic sanctions. However, the CITES sanctioning regime is limited by holes in countries’ domestic legislation. Currently, if a country fails to meet CITES requirements, other CITES parties can vote to place an embargo on exports from the country. But since CITES is not self-implementing, a particular country may not be able to follow through with the embargo because they do not have enacting legislation that authorizes the sanctions. For example, the U.S. fulfills its CITES obligations through various domestic laws like the Pelly Amendment, which authorizes the U.S. to ban all wildlife exports, legal and illegal, from a particular country for engaging in trade that diminishes the effectiveness of an international program that conserves endangered or threatened species.

Without such domestic regulations, countries lack the mandate to carry out their CITES obligations, and many countries’ have less robust regulatory capacity than the U.S. The TPP fills this void by connecting CITES enforceability with trade sanction authority. Article 20.17 of the TPP obligates the 12 member countries to fulfill their commitments under CITES, and Article 20.23 enables TPP members to use the deal’s dispute settlement measures to withdraw trade benefits to the offending nation. This valuable provision establishes an additional mechanism to bring CITES parties up to par through trade agreements.

The TPP’s focus on cooperation is a major accomplishment in the fight against harmful wildlife trafficking. A United Nations Environment Program report identifies the key to success in the fight against illegal wildlife trade is collaboration among countries and international agencies. Specifically countries must enhance the rapid exchange of intelligence. The TPP sets up a framework for such collaboration by appointing a contact point in each country to facilitate communication and establishing a committee to meet biannually whose sole focus is to help TPP nations successfully implementat the Environment Chapter. Article 20.17 charges each country and the committee to develop long-term conservation strategies, strengthen government and institutional capacity, and promote the widest measure of law enforcement cooperation and information sharing between the parties.

This is particularly important for TPP parties, given that five of the countries are among the world’s 17 “mega-diverse” countries supporting more than 70% of the earth’s plant and animal species. Moreover, Southeast Asia is a major center for the illegal wildlife trade, both as a supplier and consumer of wildlife products. Effective collaboration among TPP countries will be instrumental to conserving global diversity, and this Chapter sets up the necessary framework for sustained and prioritized collaboration among these countries.

The TPP Environment Chapter provides another tool to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and protect threatened species. Expanding countries’ obligations to address the issue of wildlife trafficking more wholistically is one reason that the TPP is the most progressive trade agreement in history, creating a new model for future trade agreements focused on sustainability.