NAFTA Official Says TPP Could Benefit From Environment Office

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By Emily Pickerell

Sept. 9 — Environmental issues in the Trans-Pacific Partnership would benefit greatly by having a standing organization to turn ideas into actions, according to a top official from a similar environmental organization established by the 1993 North American Free Trade Act.

The NAFTA-related Council for Environmental Cooperation, or CEC, has been able to effectively organize efforts such as the protection of monarch butterflies and a catalog of pollutants because of its permanent office in Montreal and a dedicated staff to carry out the ideas of the respective environmental ministers, Cesar Chavez, its executive director, said in an exclusive interview Sept. 9 with Bloomberg BNA at the organization's annual meeting in Merida, Mexico.

The organization has a council of its own, comprised of the Mexican and Canadian environmental ministers and the U.S. head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who discuss policy issues that the CEC will address. It also has an advisory committee made up of a range of private and nongovernmental experts, in addition to a secretariat that handles administrative issues and conducts environmental investigations.

“It is important because when you come from the environmental field, you are always preaching on already converted people,” said Chavez. “The ones we have to convince are the ones in the financial or trade fields. That is why it is important to bring these players in. They are indispensable.”

The theme of the CEC's annual meeting has been addressing climate change and its impact on a reduction in biodiversity, an area where the organization has been able to leverage its contacts across North America to provide information exchanges on the latest scientific developments, according to Chavez.

Providing Prospective on Environmental Issues

The TPP is a trade agreement among 12 countries, including the U.S. and Mexico, that some have praised for having an environmental chapter in the main body of the agreement, unlike NAFTA, which dealt with environmental issues in a side chapter.

While it includes a council of top-level ministers, it does not have a permanent office to oversee implementation of environmental goals—a mistake, in Chavez's view.

“The secretariat is a place where ideas come and take shape. We are the implementers and provide feedback, and we may help the ministers in providing feedback,” he said. “You have the advantage of having someone who will reflect your thoughts back to you, to provide some more perspective.”

The TPP, however, has added an important feature for addressing environmental issues that is missing in NAFTA: the inclusion of both environmental and trade ministers involved in the high-level environmental council.

Given that NAFTA will continue to be in effect even if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is ratified, Chavez anticipates the CEC continuing its work of focusing on North American environmental issues.

“I expect we will continue working between the three countries in a coordinated way, and later in the year, we will know more about the future these agreements,” Chavez said. “The ministries are helping us to let us know what they think the relationship should be.”

Renewed Focus

The original focus of the Council for Environmental Cooperation was on the impacts of trade, but it has since expanded its focus into mitigating climate change, where it works to share available data.

“We are not claiming or saying we are going to solve the problem, but we can do two or three things, such as harmonizing the information available on climate change information,” Chavez said.

He also sees opportunities for it to address the interaction between energy production and environmental issues, where conflicts over pipelines and the potential of renewable energy trade within North America are becoming increasingly important.

“If we manage to work together environment and energy, then we are heading in the right way, but it still has to be developed,” said Chavez, calling the relationship between the two one of the most pressing environmental issues. “It is one of the most important areas of coordination that is also an area of opportunity.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Pickrell in Merida, Mexico, at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

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