PANAMA CITY, PANAMA
On January 29, 2014, the United States and Panama held inaugural meetings of the U.S. – Panama Environmental Affairs Council (Council) and the Environmental Cooperation Commission (Commission). The two governments established the Council in the Environment Chapter of the U.S. – Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) and the Commission in the related U.S. – Panama Environmental Cooperation Agreement (ECA).
During the Council, the governments reported on their progress in meeting obligations in the Environment Chapter, including obligations to: (1) strive to ensure that their laws and polices provide for and encourage high levels of environmental protection, and continue to improve those laws and policies; (2) effectively enforce environmental laws, regulations and other measures; (3) not derogate from them in a manner affecting trade or investment; (4) adopt, maintain, and implement laws and other measures to fulfill their obligations under certain multilateral environmental agreements; and (5) provide opportunities for the public to participate in implementation of the Environment Chapter.
The United States reported, among other things, on actions taken to improve levels of environmental protection, such as the establishment of six new wildlife refuges since 2012 and the revision of national ambient air, quality standards for harmful fine particulate matter. The United States also reported that in fiscal year 2012 the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment Division concluded 47 criminal cases against 83 defendants, obtaining nearly 21 years in confinement and over $38 million in criminal fines, restitution, community service funds, and special assessments.
Panama reported, among other things, that it has assumed relevant commitments to implement laws for strict environmental protections, such as signing the Minimata Convention (related to the protection of human health and environment protections from the adverse effects of mercury). Panama has also stimulated social responsibility in business through cleaner production programs. Additionally, in 2013, Panama issued 181 fines for failure to comply with environmental laws, 92 forest-related sanctions, and 60 sanctions for noncompliance with environmental impact assessments.
The two governments also expressed their intention to set up the U.S. – Panama Secretariat for Environmental Matters in accordance with the requirements and regulations of each government. The Secretariat will receive submissions from the public asserting that either the United States or Panama is failing to effectively enforce its environmental laws.
During the Commission meeting, the two governments finalized a work program that establishes the following priorities for cooperative activities: (1) strengthening effective implementation and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations; (2) promoting sustainable development and management of environmental resources including biodiversity, protected areas and other ecologically important ecosystems; (3) improving private sector performance, including the adoption of sound environmental practices and technologies; and (4) promoting environmental education, transparency, and public participation in environmental decision-making and enforcement.
Technical experts from the governments also highlighted achievements from ongoing cooperative activities. For example, officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Government of Panama described their work together to set up an ISO-certified waste water reference laboratory. Officials from the U.S. Department of Interior and the Government of Panama discussed how they are cooperating with other governments in the region to combat wildlife trafficking.
The Council and the Commission held a joint public session. Approximately 30 representatives from civil society, the private sector, indigenous groups, academia, and the general public attended the session. The Council and the Commission reported out on the outcomes of their respective meetings, answered questions, and asked attendees for their views on implementation of the Environment Chapter and Environmental Cooperation Agreement.
In these inaugural sessions for the Commission and the Council, for the United States, officials from the Department of State, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Agency for International Development, the Forest Service, the Department of Interior, and the Smithsonian Institution participated. For the Government of Panama, the National Environmental Authority of Panama and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of Panama participated.