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Is the United States About to Abandon the Shark Finning Ban?

Is the United States About to Abandon the Shark Finning Ban?

Animal welfare advocates cheered when US officials appeared to take a tough stance against the shark finning industry during an environmental trade agreement talk between international leaders in Bangkok in March of 2013. Now, that stance may be under threat.

Last year, Delegates at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species appeared close to deciding on†stronger protections for several marine species, something that was taken to mean shark finning might soon be a thing of the past. However, recently leaked documents of the draft text of the agreement between the United States and the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership nations contains no such promise.

Finning is a barbaric practice in which sharks are captured and have their fins cut off. The sharks are left to die, while the fins are used for a number of things including to create shark fin soup, a popular dish in many of the Pacific rim nations. Millions of sharks a year are thought to be dying as a result of this practice.

The text of the leaked documents, which was released by WikiLeaks this month but is dated from November of 2013, appears to show that the United States is preparing to make concessions not only on shark finning, but also key pollution reduction and control targets and logging restrictions.

Ilana Solomon from the Sierra Club†said reform advocates are extremely disappointed with the draft text:

“We’ve been calling for a ban on shark finning, which should be in this chapter. All we got in the text was a suggestion that countries should come up with fish management plans that may include, as appropriate, measures to address shark finning.”

That’s not a binding commitment. The same with the other key environmental targets that campaigners had been banking on: there are vague mentions and some suggestions of targets and regulations, but nothing binding.

The Sierra Club, together with the WWF and the NRDC, have released their own analysis of the documents and they find the current language seriously lacking, so much so that it rolls back the clock to pre-George W. Bush era commitments:

Article SS.4 on Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) — agreements between a set of governments designed to protect the environment — represents a clear step back from the May 2007 bipartisan agreement on trade. In that agreement, Congress and the Bush Administration agreed to “incorporate a specific list of multilateral environmental agreements” in its free trade agreements (FTAs) and to commit Parties to “adopt, maintain, and implement” the laws, regulations, and all other measures to fulfill its obligations under each MEA.

[...]

Unfortunately, the leaked text takes a significant step back from the May 2007 agreement. Instead of committing TPP countries to “adopt, maintain, and implement” the laws, regulations, and all other measures to fulfill its obligations under MEAs and subject those obligations to dispute settlement, each TPP country is merely committed to “affirm its commitment” to implement the MEAs to which it is a Party (Article SS.4.1).

The environmental protections aspect of this agreement was always going to be a tough sell as the other nations involved in the deal, among them†Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Peru and Vietnam, all oppose different facets of the environmental pact. The agreement was supposed to be finalized by the end of 2013. That didn’t happen. Now, US officials are stressing that this is only a draft text and that, as the text details, they will be pressing for tougher commitments and ensuring that any vague language is cleared up.

The New York Times quotes one US official as saying:

“It is an uphill battle, but we’re pushing hard,” said Michael Froman, the United States trade representative. “We have worked closely with the environmental community from the start and have made our commitment clear.” Mr. Froman said he continued to pursue a robust, enforceable environmental standard that he said would be stronger than those in previous free-trade agreements.

In fairness to the administration, a document released alongside the draft text, called the “Report from the Chairs,” shows that the United States has been lobbying hard for tougher language but that the trade nations involved, in particular Canada and Australia, have refused to give ground in key areas like adhering to tougher restrictions on marine fishing and habitat conservation.

This speaks to a wider problem with bilateral negotiations, that all parties involved have key interests they want to see fulfilled. The problem is that those key interests in this case appear to conflict with those of other nations, creating an impasse that the US negotiators are having trouble getting around.

The United States’ position isn’t helped by the fact that these talks are all taking place behind closed doors, meaning that the media has been kept out. WikiLeakes and other transparency groups have been highly critical of this move and, with these latest revelations, it seems those fears are not entirely unfounded.

The way ahead isn’t clear. There will be another meeting of member nations in the next few months, but unless this language undergoes a serious shift, it appears a unique chance to protect wildlife could slip through our fingers.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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111 comments

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1:50PM PST on Jan 25, 2014

What the f*** has happened to common sense and basic values? It takes less than 10 minutes in grammar school biology class to learn about the basics of the food chain, and how killing off one species will have a ripple affect across the entire animal kingdom. Since sharks take so long to reproduce, killing them en masse for their fins (which are not to feed starving folks who have nothing else to eat, but as a delicacy) will put the whole ocean off balance very swiftly; the ocean off balance then does what?... anyone?...

And it seriously makes me wonder about the human fabric of the people sitting in these meetings or whatever, when something like a Shark Finning Ban comes up and it doesn't sink in to their ethics layer of humanity WHAT that actually means. It's not an instant death--do they know that? They have to know that, right? It's kind of right there in the phrasing 'Shark Finning.' I would like to be able to actually see their faces or reactions to what this practice means--are they smug and gross about it? Like they get off on the torture or something? Or are they not so bright and it skips right above them--they think it's like happy memories of fishing with grandpa? Or do they just don't care about torture at all? One would think if you expect an animal to give the ultimate sacrifice of it's life for your dinner plate, that animal deserves more respect than this. When did 'leaders' become so gross and stupid?

8:41AM PST on Jan 25, 2014

As usual this is all about money. Mr Froman can't do this alone so we have to help him were we can and I hope he will stand up against this cruelty. How high a percentage of the population who actually eats Shark finn soup, I wonder, exept for all these high and Mighty politicians and other rich people who has an unrelentless need to show off. National Geographic Society had an article about the results of the finning industry, I don't remember when but that showed the ugly truth that some Shark species were actually being fished to extinction in just a few years, mainly due to the newly rich chinese demand for this so called delicatesse. I must say that I detest these fishermen who carry out this animal cruelty just for money or is it their own sadistic pleasure.

8:35AM PST on Jan 25, 2014

Why does my own country insist on finding new ways to disappoint me on a daily basis? I hope they keep the ban in place.

5:55AM PST on Jan 25, 2014

Shark finning is brutal, inhomane & totally unnecessary. No one lives on shark fin soup, it's luxury served up to guests to impress them. personally, I'd be more impressed by a "cruelty-free" menu than one containing endangered species.

12:02AM PST on Jan 25, 2014

Noted.

11:37PM PST on Jan 24, 2014

The United States must show strong leadership on this issue. If the US relents to the will of other countries then it will open the way to mass marine exploitation. The future of all marine life in the Pacific and elsewhere will be in peril. However, citizens in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, China and Japan must understand that the politicians in their respective nations care little for the marine environment. They care for the interests of the business community and not the environment community. So, I request the citizens of these nations to please do not give in to these rascals - both politicians and profit-grabbing business lobby and strengthen your voice to prevent the destruction of ocean wildlife.

1:14PM PST on Jan 24, 2014

Thank you.

9:40AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

All politicians are liars! How disappointing when people renege on their promises. Backing off will give them carte blanche to do as they please with all other species. Oh cruel ,disgusting world made up of greedy morons.

7:22AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

I certainly hope not...thanks for posting.

5:44AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

I do hope they do not change their minds about this. If this is true its very sad. We must all make a stand and say no. The sharks cant speak for themselves so we have got to.

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