Raising the bar to protect wildlife through trade policy with Australia, New Zealand

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

"Habitat loss accounts for a quarter of the 1,640 plant and animal species listed as threatened in Australia" [Shutterstock]

The opening of EU trade negotiations with both Australia and New Zealand presents an opportunity for the parties to strengthen their commitments to protect wildlife, natural habitats and the welfare of animals. The EU should look to TPP-11’s environmental provisions for inspiration, argue Joanna Swabe and Nicola Beynon.

Dr Joanna Swabe is senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International/Europe and Nicola Beynon is head of campaigns for Humane Society International/Australia.

With the negotiating mandates having recently been approved by the Council, the EU is on the cusp of formally opening trade negotiations with both Australia and New Zealand. These two proposed FTAs present an opportunity for the parties to strengthen their commitments to protect wildlife, natural habitats and the welfare of animals.

The EU has already taken promising steps to protect wildlife via past FTAs, particularly with respect to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) implementation, wildlife trafficking and IUU fishing; all that demand reduction efforts and cooperation between parties.

Yet more binding commitments are needed to tackle the trade in wildlife species taken in violation of the country of origin, and to discourage consumption of goods and products, such as palm oil, which are harvested unsustainably and threaten the survival of species.

It is vital that EU FTAs include strong commitments to the protection of both domestic wildlife and wildlife habitats. The removal of animal species from the wild can occur at unsustainable levels leading to serious population declines, with dire consequences for the ecosystem.

Likewise, the disappearance of habitats is one of the leading causes of population declines in endangered and threatened species.

Australia is presently failing its wildlife in this regard

Eastern Australia has been described as a global deforestation hotspot with 395,000 hectares of vegetation cleared in 2015-2016, rivalling places such as the Amazon, Congo and Borneo. A booming livestock industry, which exports to the EU, is a big part of the problem.

Indeed, habitat loss accounts for a quarter of the 1,640 plant and animal species listed as threatened in Australia; already the country leads the world in mammalian extinctions. Yet there is much to lose with 85% of the continent’s plants, 84% of its mammals and 45% of its birds found nowhere else on the planet. Our organisation is leading an alliance in Australia calling for new environmental laws to stem the loss.

Outdated policies and attitudes are causing great harm. Marine species in the waters of New South Wales and Queensland are imperilled by unscientific shark net and drumline programmes that are supposed to protect people from sharks.

They are ineffective, unintentionally leading to the deaths of thousands of endangered marine species, such as critically endangered grey nurse sharks, hammerhead sharks, tiger sharks and threatened great white sharks, threatened loggerheads, hawksbill and green turtles, dugongs, rays, dolphins and whales.

Even kangaroos, iconic as they are, are killed by the millions each year; a proportion of their meat, in addition to fur and leather, is exported to the EU. Unknown numbers of kangaroos are wounded after being shot with poor accuracy and left to die in the bush at night, not even included in the kill statistics.

Joeys dependent on their mothers die of exposure, starvation or predation, whereas those taken from the pouch are killed by hunters smashing their heads against vehicles. These deaths too go unrecorded.

The sustainability of the industrial-scale slaughter of kangaroos has also been brought into question, particularly given that kangaroos grow and breed slowly and have high levels of juvenile mortality.

Ironically, deforestation, the use of shark nets and drumlines and Australia’s commercial kangaroo slaughter run counter to the nation’s environmental commitments made when it – along with New Zealand and nine other Pacific nations – signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP-11) in March 2018.

This regional trade agreement requires that parties implement measures to protect endangered wildlife species in their own territories and protect the eco-systems of protected areas.

TPP-11’s Environment Chapter is surprisingly progressive with regard to wildlife in general and the protection of the marine environment in particular. The European Commission could look to this trade deal as a benchmark for its own Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters.

In short, TPP-11 raises the bar for wildlife protection through trade policy. Alongside the more standard commitments to the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements, it includes provisions requiring parties to fulfil their obligations under CITES and to commit to taking measures to combat the trade in non-CITES species, including cooperation on law enforcement. In connection with biodiversity protection, the agreement also addresses the issue of managing both terrestrial and aquatic invasive alien species.

One of the most exceptional aspects of the agreement is that it places a high priority on the protection of the marine environment, with specific commitments to promote the conservation of targeted species, such as sharks, marine turtles, seabirds and marine mammals. This level of specificity is quite unique and should be replicated in the agreements with Australia and New Zealand.

Likewise, TPP-11’s requirements to improve fisheries management to prevent overfishing and the overcapacity of fleets, and to combat IUU fishing through the implementation of port state measures, are striking.

TPP-11 even addresses the issue of harmful fisheries subsidies, requiring the parties to ban subsidies that negatively impact fish stocks that are overfished and not to grant subsidies to vessels that are engaged in illegal fishing.

The EU has thus far avoided commitments related to fisheries subsidies in its FTAs, but its negotiating partners “down under” will sooner or later bring the idea to the table for discussion.

Fisheries subsidies may well be the greatest threat facing our marine ecosystems, having helped produce a global fishing fleet up to 175% larger than sustainable levels.

With two negotiating partners already making such progressive commitments to environmental protection, the EU ought to raise its game with regard to these two new proposed trade deals.

These FTAs embody the principle that trade policy can influence positive change for the lives of animals, the protection of their habitats, and for the world in which we all must live together.

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