Trade Could Drive Environmental Commitments, New Zealand Says

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Murray Griffin

New Zealand wants its upcoming trade negotiations with the European Union to set a new global benchmark for using such deals to lock in environmental commitments.

“It’s not fair to rely upon trade to cure all of the world’s environmental problems,” David Parker, New Zealand’s trade and environment minister, told Bloomberg Environment. “But it is fair to ask if trade agreements can help.”

On May 22, the Council of the European Union authorized opening separate negotiations with New Zealand and Australia for free trade pacts and the EU-New Zealand deal should be “a better agreement than any before in respect of environmental issues,” Parker said.

The EU negotiations also could provide an opportunity to advance development of international carbon markets, according to Parker, who oversaw the development of his country’s emissions trading system.

“It may be that trade agreements are a good vehicle to begin designing standards for carbon markets and for cementing cooperation between countries on the development of those markets,” he said.

French Free Trade

Most international environmental agreements lack enforcement mechanisms, but these systems are generally found in trade deals and could be used to enforce environmental standards, Parker said.

For example, the recent Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership requires its 11 Asia-Pacific signatories to prohibit subsidies for fishing that negatively affects overfished stocks or for vessels engaged in illegal fishing. “That is an example of trade being used to achieve what the international environmental community has never been able to achieve,” he said.

Parker said he expects French President Emmanuel Macron to share New Zealand’s vision for high environmental standards in the free trade agreement. A joint declaration by Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from April is evidence that the two governments are committed to trade policy that supports the Paris Agreement’s climate change goals.

The declaration, issued after Ardern visited the Elysee Palace in Paris, also backs cooperation on non-trade–related fronts on a range of climate change and environmental initiatives, which include a proposed Global Pact for the Environment.

The pact would cluster in a single treaty 20 major principles to guide environmental actions.

Agriculture’s Agenda

While France will likely be eager to cooperate on environmental matters with both New Zealand and Australia during free trade talks, it may be wary of the potential impact of their strong agricultural export industries on French farmers.

Macron alluded to the sensitivity of the issue in a May 2 visit to Australia, saying it was “reassuring” that negotiations would involve detailed discussions on agriculture.

New Zealand was the EU’s 50th-largest trading partner for goods in 2017, while the EU is New Zealand’s third-largest trading partner after China and Australia. Its exports to the EU are largely agricultural, while the EU provides manufactured goods in return.

Both New Zealand and Australia are signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the EU has finalized free trade deals with five other members of that pact—Canada, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, and Vietnam.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom will travel to New Zealand and Australia in June to open negotiations at the political level. The first negotiation rounds are expected to take place in Brussels in July.

Request Environment & Energy Report