The environment chapter of the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (the “Agreement”) contains groundbreaking elements that were first outlined on May 10, 2007, in a bipartisan, Congressional-Executive accord to incorporate high environmental standards into America’s trade agreements. Under the Agreement, the Panamanian government will be held to the same level of accountability for meeting environmental commitments as it is for meeting all other commitments from market access to intellectual property protection.
• The Agreement’s environmental commitments require both countries not only to maintain current levels of environmental protection at home, but to strive for higher environmental standards. Both the United States and Panama commit not to weaken existing environmental laws or to reduce environmental protections in any way that will give domestic producers an advantage over the other country’s exporters – and both governments commit to effective enforcement of environmental laws. But beyond that, the United States and Panama commit in this Agreement to strive to continue to improve levels of environmental protection – this could be accomplished through actions such as the adoption and promotion of new green technologies being developed in the United States, which is a priority for the Obama Administration.
• The United States and Panama are already parties to seven international environmental agreements that seek to: protect threatened and endangered species, protect the ozone layer, conserve wetlands, conserve fisheries, and protect whales. The Agreement requires both countries to live up to the commitments made in these agreements, and sets up a formal dispute settlement process within the bilateral agreement that makes us answerable to each other if either fails to meet these commitments.
• The landmark, bipartisan May 10, 2007 accord raising environmental standards in American trade agreements benefited greatly from the input of American environmental groups. The U.S.-Panama Agreement ensures that the public can continue to provide vital perspective on whether the Agreement’s environmental commitments are being met, and how practices can be improved as the agreement is implemented. Both the United States and Panama will set up a formal mechanism for interested stakeholders to submit their views on implementation of the agreement’s environment chapter. The Agreement also provides for a public submissions process through an independent secretariat for environmental enforcement matters to ensure that views of civil society are appropriately considered.
• The Agreement establishes an Environmental Affairs Council of senior-level officials to oversee implementation of the environment chapter, and this Council will be required to involve the public in its work.