Conserving Nature Is Good Trade Policy

We don't have to trade our planet's future to boost trade among nations.

When the world's population is consuming resources at a rate 1.5 times the Earth's capacity to produce them, large-scale transformational change is more vital than ever to turn the tide and conserve natural resources for future generations.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is one of those potentially game-changing solutions. The TPP is a trade agreement designed to promote economic growth by enhancing trade and investment among twelve TPP partner countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including the United States.

Trade agreements aren't always recognized as an opportunity to protect the environment. But TPP countries collectively account for more than a quarter of global trade in timber and seafood and are major players in the global trade of wildlife, such as elephant ivory, rhino horns and tiger parts.

A major trade agreement among these countries that includes strong environmental obligations could provide critical new protections for some of our planet's important natural resources. More specifically, it could disrupt some of the most notorious trading routes that are driving the current global wildlife poaching epidemic.

As nearly four years of negotiations come to a close, TPP countries face a choice. Do they keep their promise to create an ambitious 21st century trade deal with a fully enforceable environment chapter or do they abandon real environmental protections for weak, voluntary promises?

The U.S. has pressed hard throughout the process, and in response to the recent leak of the environment chapter, US Trade Representative Ambassador Mike Froman wrote that our government "will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement."

It's great to see the U.S. continue to publicly show its support for the environment. US leadership is paramount to delivering a final TPP with strong conservation protections, but it's critical that other TPP nations make similar public commitments. As major producers and traders of wildlife, fish and timber, all negotiating nations have a responsibility to ensure that resources are well managed and that illegal trade and subsidies do not contribute to the depletion of fish stocks or increase illegal logging and wildlife trafficking.

Any TPP country that claims to be a sustainability and conservation leader needs to step up to the plate to ensure strong environmental protections in the TPP.

The future of a nation's forests or a community's marine resources or even the lifespan of a tiger are no longer only determined by local decisions. Global trade has increased the pressure on these vital natural resources making their fate a multi-nation decision. Without the sustainable trade of natural resources, countries will not only lose economic benefits due to scarcity down the road but humankind will be the worse off for the loss of species and biodiversity.

It's not often that large-scale opportunities arise to help protect our planet. And surprisingly enough, the TPP, if it is done right, can offer a valuable way forward.