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New York Times: U.S. Accuses Peru of Violating Agreement to Protect Rain Forest

January 4, 2019

WASHINGTON — The United States is accusing Peru of violating its commitment to protect the Amazon rain forest from deforestation, threatening to hold Lima in violation of the 2007 United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement.

On Friday, Robert Lighthizer, President Trump’s top trade negotiator, announced that he was seeking formal consultations with Peru to resolve concerns about its recent decision to curtail the authority of the country’s forestry auditor, Organismo de Supervisión de los Recursos Forestales, which was established to comply with the treaty. The move prompted concern within the Trump administration — and complaint from congressional Democrats — that it will lead to more illegal logging in Peru.

“By taking this unprecedented step, the Trump administration is making clear that it takes monitoring and enforcement of U.S. trade agreements seriously, including obligations to strengthen forest sector governance,” Mr. Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, said in a statement.

The challenge is intended, in part, to send a signal to Democrats that the administration is willing to enforce environmental and labor provisions that are included in trade agreements. The forestry agreement was inserted into the 2007 trade agreement by Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was sworn in as speaker of the House on Thursday. The language is the basis for enforcement provisions of environmental and labor standards in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that the three countries settled on last year.

Mr. Trump needs congressional Democrats to support the new U.S.M.C.A., which has yet to pass Congress. But Democrats have questioned whether the revised deal, which replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, has enough teeth to force Mexico to comply with commitments to raise wages in the automotive industry. The Peru forestry annex was considered a model for a new inspection system that could include confiscation at the border of goods deemed to violate the treaty, and the prosecution of companies that import noncompliant products.

In a letter to members of Congress last month, Mr. Lighthizer said he would request that an independent tribunal be convened — an action intended, in part, to win Democratic votes for the revised Nafta, which includes similar environmental protections.

“As you know, ensuring that the commitments of our trading partners are monitored and enforced is a top priority,” Mr. Lighthizer wrote to Representative Richard Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts and the new chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

In a signal to Democrats that he will fight on their behalf, Mr. Lighthizer said he agreed with Mr. Neal that Peru’s decision to dismantle an agency created to stop the illegal harvesting of trees was “unacceptable.”

Mr. Lighthizer has spent the past several weeks trying to contain the fallout from Mr. Trump’s announcement on Dec. 2 that he planned to withdraw from Nafta, a statement intended to pressure Democrats into passing the new agreement within the next six months.

Mr. Lighthizer met with Ms. Pelosi last month, attempting to reassure her that the administration planned to implement a robust system of inspections at the border to ensure that Mexico was complying with its labor and environmental obligations.

“While there are positive things in this proposed trade agreement, it is just a list without real enforcement of the labor and environmental protections,” Ms. Pelosi said after the meeting.

Peru has scaled back environmental enforcement in recent years in an attempt to attract greater foreign investment. In 2016, the Peruvian government fired the forestry organization’s director, Rolando Navarro, after timber industry executives protested the seizure of Amazonian wood by American officials.

In December, the Peruvian government limited the independence of the country’s forestry auditor.

Over the past 10 years, Congress has sent Peru $90 million in aid intended to beef up enforcement. In 2015, Department of Homeland Security officials in Houston, acting on intelligence from their Peruvian counterparts, seized 1,770 metric tons of Amazon rain forest wood they found in a rusty freighter.

But since then, enforcement has waned, and illegal deforestation is increasing, according to an Associated Press investigation published in April.

House Democrats applauded Mr. Lighthizer’s move on Friday.

“Finally, a tree falls in the woods and someone hears it,” said Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas. “This U.S.T.R. deserves credit for doing what the previous one failed to do. For years, I’ve been seeking enforcement regarding rampant illegal logging.”