WASHINGTON — Environmentalists praised wildlife protections included in the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal announced Monday, calling them groundbreaking.
They said the pact would strengthen international environmental enforcement agreements and could go a long way to diminish the illegal trade in certain plants and animals.
Those measures represent a major breakthrough on one of the most divisive issues in the contentious trade negotiations, as well as a significant victory for the Obama administration, which had pushed for strong environmental provisions against the objections of most other countries taking part in the 12-nation deal.
“The provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership go beyond what we have seen in other trade agreements,” said David McCauley, senior vice president for policy and government affairs at the World Wildlife Federation, which was among several advocacy groups that had worked closely with the administration on the final language. “We see this as a very big deal.”
Environmentalists had criticized the Obama administration after a draft of the environmental chapter of the trade agreement, made public in January 2014, appeared to signal that the United States was retreating on a variety of environmental measures in order to advance a trade deal that has been a top priority for President Obama.
In particular, the draft showed that Michael Froman, the United States trade representative, had pushed for but failed to achieve a requirement that the pact’s signers abide by existing environmental treaties, which have few enforcement provisions.
But the final deal includes that requirement along with new methods of enforcement. It also places new limits on wildlife trafficking and subsidies for illegal fishing.
The United States and several of the Asian countries participating in the trade deal are sources and crucial markets for illegal animal parts like African rhinoceros horns, ivory and tiger bones. In Asia, some exotic animal parts end up as meals or in medicine shops, where they are sold as cures for various ailments including impotence. In Western countries, some smuggled items, like lion heads, end up in living rooms as trophies.
Worldwide, the illegal trade is estimated at about $20 billion a year by Interpol, the international police agency.
The agreement complements the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as Cites. The Cites agreement provides a list of animals and plants for which international trade is banned or restricted, and it is the world’s primary treaty to protect wildlife, with roughly 175 countries as members.
Under provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, countries would be required to enforce laws and regulations to protect wildlife covered under the Cites agreement from illegal smuggling, or risk economic sanctions.
The agreement goes further by requiring countries to take action to protect any wildlife, even if it is not covered under Cites, if the wildlife has been illegally taken from any country.
United States law enforcement officials say that smugglers have often considered themselves safe from prosecution after their goods left the countries of origin, because the destination countries typically did not pursue investigations.
By contrast, the wildlife provisions of the trade agreement require cooperation among law enforcement agencies across international borders and require that the agencies share information to help investigate international criminal gangs involved in wildlife trafficking.
The trade agreement also includes what some environmental groups and trade officials call historic measures to protect against overfishing, which causes losses estimated at $10 billion to $23 billion a year because of depleted stocks.
Under the agreement, countries would agree to prohibit some subsidies that they provide to their fishing fleets. United States trade officials said the measure was a major concession for several countries that have large fishing industries.
Environmental advocacy groups, while praising the wildlife language in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, said that the impact would be only as good as participants’ willingness to enforce it.
“There has to be vigilance in monitoring the agreements and making sure that countries live up to their end of the bargain,” said Glenn Prickett, chief external affairs officer for the Nature Conservancy.