It’s not every day that 12 countries spanning four continents and representing 40 percent of the global economy sign a trade agreement. But that’s not the only extraordinary thing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The most progressive trade deal in history, TPP includes enforceable commitments to expand conservation and environmental protection across the Asia-Pacific region.

What does that mean in practice? We spoke to Amanda Mayhew, a trade-policy expert at the nonprofit organization World Animal Protection, to find out.

Close-up of Amanda Mayhew (Courtesy of Amanda Mayhew)
Amanda Mayhew of World Animal Protection (Courtesy photo)

Why is it important for trade agreements to include environmental issues?

Trade agreements are designed to facilitate and thereby increase trade. But if not managed properly, this expansion of international trade could make existing environmental challenges worse.

It is therefore critical that trade agreements ensure mutually supportive trade and environmental policies — in other words, that environmental protections are not compromised for the sake of trade.

This is especially true for the TPP region, as five of the TPP countries rank among the world’s top 10 most biologically diverse and as the region as a whole encompasses major markets for threatened and endangered wildlife.

What will TPP do about wildlife trafficking?

TPP’s environment chapter contains groundbreaking provisions to address wildlife trafficking. It requires that countries take measures to combat the trade of all wildlife taken illegally.

Wildlife trafficking has become a global crisis. It not only affects the animals being trafficked, but it also has major implications for global security due to traffickers’ ties to organized crime. It is essential that governments and NGOs alike use every tool available to solve this crisis. Incorporating wildlife protection into a legally binding and enforceable agreement such as TPP can go a long way to ensuring that knowledge is shared, that resources go to improving enforcement, and that this issue is made a top global priority.

Can TPP help combat overfishing and enhance marine protection?

Absolutely. This is a really important issue for the Pacific region. TPP countries make up more than a quarter of the global seafood trade and represent eight of the top 20 fishing nations. So it was essential that TPP address overfishing and marine protection.

Person near containers of fish (© AP Images)
The Trans-Pacific Partnership will protect against overfishing while promoting sustainable fishing practices. (© AP Images)

In the agreement, the countries recognize the need for collective action to address the problems of overfishing. That’s a much-needed step in the right direction already. TPP governments have agreed to prohibit some of the most harmful fisheries subsidies and have committed to work together to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Additionally, they have committed to promote the long-term conservation of vulnerable marine species such as sharks, dolphins and sea turtles. Marine animals face severe threats to their welfare and survival, just like those on land. It is essential that governments cooperate with each other, and with NGOs, to share information and best practices and to maximize resources to protect marine life.

How do you see governments and NGOs working together to enact or strengthen environmental protection?

An advantage that many international NGOs have is an established local presence in countries throughout the TPP region. NGOs can be an invaluable resource for collecting and disseminating information, providing solutions tailored to local communities, and carrying out those solutions on the ground. Many NGOs have experts who can assist governments with training, capacity building, resource management and more. Together, NGOs and governments can make for a powerful team to protect the environment and its animals.

And TPP’s environment chapter also includes mechanisms to engage the public in order to inform its implementation and the environmental cooperation that the 12 countries will undertake.

Can TPP help countries meet obligations in other multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)?

TPP countries are party to many MEAs covering a wide range of environmental issues. Unfortunately, some MEAs lack legally binding enforcement mechanisms, and even when they do exist, implementation can be weak. TPP, which itself is legally binding, provides reinforcement by ensuring that countries implement the MEAs they have joined.

In addition to some explicitly mentioned MEAs, TPP’s environment chapter includes stand-alone commitments for vital issues such as conservation of wetlands, sustainable management of fisheries, combating illegal fishing, and promoting conservation of marine mammals. These stand-alone commitments apply to all TPP countries equally, which should help ensure more consistent levels of environmental protection throughout the region.