Pacific trade deal could help save species: U.S.

WASHINGTON Mon Dec 5, 2011 7:01pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Trade in illegally poached and harvested wildlife and wild plants could be curbed, possibly saving endangered species such as the New Zealand Kakapo parrot, by a proposed Trans-Pacific trade deal, a top U.S. trade official said on Monday.

"Whether it involves forest products manufactured from illegally harvested tropical timber, or body parts from threatened tiger species, or fins brutally torn from sharks at sea, more can be done to fight illegal trafficking in wildlife and wild plant products," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said in a speech.

The United States is pushing for "ground-breaking" conservation provisions in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and also wants to curtail marine subsidies that encourage overfishing, Marantis said.

Global trade in illegally poached and harvested wildlife and wild plant species is estimated at tens of billions of dollars a year, he said.

The cost of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is valued at $10 billion to $23.5 billion a year, in addition to subsidies that help decimate global fish stocks, he said.

The White House is negotiating the TPP with eight other countries - Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Peru and Chile - that represent some of the most biologically diverse areas of the Asia Pacific.

"Peru is the third most bio-diverse country in the world. But 560 of its species are threatened - 45 critically endangered. Many of New Zealand's species are unique to that country and also under threat, such as the Kakapo - a large, flightless, nocturnal parrot," Marantis said.

"Chile is home to 151 threatened species, including the Chinchilla and Darwin's Fox," he said.

Japan, Mexico and Canada also have asked about joining the talks, making the TPP "the biggest game in town" in terms of negotiations to liberalize trade, he said.

Bilateral U.S. free trade pacts with Peru, Colombia, South Korea and Panama already have strong provision, but the United States hopes to go even further in the TPP pact, he said.

"Perhaps the most ground-breaking element of our proposal for TPP on environment is the inclusion of a conservation framework in the TPP environment chapter. This framework would require TPP parties to act to inhibit illegal trade in wildlife and wild plant products," Marantis said.

The United States is also proposing measures to protect wildlife species of special concern, to curb marine subsidies and deter illegal and unregulated fishing and to protect forest ecosystems from illegal logging, he said.

Mark Linscott, assistant U.S. trade representative for the environment and natural resource, spoke shortly after Marantis and acknowledged there were still "big gaps" between the United States and some other TPP members in the talks.

There is a "good dynamic" among the negotiators and that many of the TPP countries have made their own proposals for addressing environmental concerns," Linscott said.

But "that can't paper over that there are still significant gaps that we need to bridge," he said.

Supporters hope the talks will be concluded next year, but U.S. officials have avoided a firm deadline.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Philip Barbara)

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