This week, President Obama nominated Deputy National Security Adviser for International Affairs Mike Froman for one of the remaining spots in his Cabinet -- U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). If confirmed, Mr. Froman will face many opportunities to build a new and responsible model of trade. The Sierra Club calls upon Mr. Froman to put communities, working families, and the environment at the core of our trade agenda. Here are six opportunities that Mr. Froman can seize as USTR.
1. Bring trade negotiations into the light of day.
Trade rules affect nearly every aspect of our lives -- the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the price of medicines we may need, the jobs we depend on. It is therefore absolutely critical that the public has a say in how trade rules are formulated and implemented.
Today, trade rules are usually written under a cloud of secrecy. For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- potentially the largest free trade agreement ever -- has been under negotiation for over three years and may conclude as early as this October. And yet, not a single word of draft text has been released to the public. Without draft text, the public is left to guess what may be included in trade deals and is unable to meaningfully engage. Responsible trade begins with public participation.
2. Strengthen environmental rules in trade agreements.
There is no question about it: as trade increases, so does the stress on natural resources, such as timber, fish and wildlife. Every trade agreement must include a legally enforceable environment chapter that ensures sustainable resource management and that obligates countries to enforce and strengthen domestic environmental policies and their commitments under multilateral environmental agreements. Agreements must also take steps to address trade-related conservation issues, such as the illegal timber trade. The United States should not enter into trade agreements with countries that are unable to agree to these basic principles.
3. Reject investor-state dispute settlement.
Trade and investment agreements have historically encouraged foreign investment by awarding vast privileges to investors and corporations. These privileges threaten communities and the environment and, by offering foreign firms greater rights than domestic ones, have led to the offshoring of jobs.
The investor-state dispute settlement system, for example, elevates foreign corporations to the level of nation states and allows them to sue sovereign governments in private tribunals over laws and policies which may reduce their profits. By the end of 2012, corporations including Exxon-Mobil and Chevron launched more than 500 investor-state cases against more than 90 governments. Cases have challenged critical environmental and public interest policies such as bans on toxic chemicals, new regulations in the mining industry, and phase-outs of nuclear energy. Investor-state dispute settlement must end with the next USTR.
4. Ensure that trade rules do not undercut the ability of nations to fight the climate crisis.
In the past several years there has been an alarming rise in the number of international trade and investment disputes related to renewable energy and climate policies. For example, in just the past year, Japan and the European Union have challenged Ontario, Canada's, renewable energy incentives program and the U.S. has filed a trade case challenging rules in India's national solar program. Given the dire impacts of the climate crisis that both the United States and the WTO have acknowledged, all governments must have the ability to develop domestic renewable energy industries to fight climate disruption and the fossil fuel industry behind the crisis. Trade rules must not undermine the efforts of governments to confront the climate crisis.
5. Preserve our rights to manage our own resources, including exports of fossil fuels like natural gas.
Because of the new quantities of natural gas unleashed by hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," the United States has the ability to become a major natural gas exporter for the first time ever. Exporting U.S. liquid natural gas (LNG) comes with significant environmental and economic risks. For example, LNG exports would require a significant expansion of gas production using fracking and would raise domestic energy prices.
Unfortunately, thanks to a little-known provision of the Natural Gas Act, the U.S. Department of Energy is required to automatically approve all exports of U.S. LNG to countries with which it has a free trade agreement that calls for "national treatment for trade in gas." Given the risks that gas exports pose on our air, water, land, and climate, the new USTR cannot let the DOE lose its ability to review the economic and environmental impacts of LNG exports.
6. Bring trade negotiations into the light of day. (This point is worth repeating.)
Economies can grow and trade can exist without threatening our air, water, and health. The first step to building responsible trade is to bring trade agreements and negotiations into the light of day with the American public's input. A new model of trade that benefits communities and the environment is possible, and it begins with transparency and public engagement.
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