The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an alliance that
removed trade and investment barriers between Mexico, the United States, and
Canada, is one of the first international trade agreements to include a
section on environmental issues. Although some consider NAFTA's
environmental regulations to be inadequate, they set an important
precedent for building environmental safeguards into all such
Environmentalists and special-interest groups lobbied hard for the
inclusion of environmental provisions in NAFTA. Their greatest concerns
were that Mexico might pressure the United States to weaken its
environmental laws by declaring them to be barriers to trade,
that jobs might be lost from the U.S. when industries relocated to take
advantage of Mexico's less strict environmental laws, and that the
development of border industries might damage the environment
in an already heavily-polluted area. Specific issues included the
provision of clean drinking water to border communities, treatment of
wastewater and hazardous waste in these communities, phytosanitary trade
protocols, dolphin-safe tuna harvesting methods, and recycling.
NAFTA's response to these concerns is covered in the Congressional
Research Service (CRS) Report on NAFTA: Related
Environmental Issues and Initiatives (March 1, 2000).
describes the environmental provisions in the 1992 NAFTA text and the 1993
North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), a side
accord that promoted further environmental cooperation by founding the
Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC). This organization has
promoted trinational work on projects such as the North American Bird
Conservation Initiative to protect bird habitat, the Upper San Pedro River
Initiative to protect the Sonora-Arizona ecosystem, and the Sound
Management of Chemicals Project to reduce the use of pollutants including
PCBs, DDT, chlordane, and mercury. The report also discusses the
establishment of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission and North
American Development Bank, twin institutions intended to promote and
finance environmentally-sound industrial development along the Mexico-U.S.
The CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for the 106th
Congress (April 24, 2000), discusses international
relations with an emphasis on NAFTA's role at the heart of our
interactions with Mexico. It also covers the major issues addressed by the
Zedillo Administration in Mexico, including immigration, drug trafficking,
and human rights.
The election of a new President this month, Vicente Fox, marks
the end of a 71-year reign of power by the Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI) in Mexico. Fox, who belongs to the National Action Party
(PAN), appealed for change and an end to corruption during his campaign.
After he takes office in December, he hopes to amend NAFTA to open the
border between Mexico and the United States for labor.
While the long-term economic and environmental effects of NAFTA on the
three member nations remain disputed, the agreement is heralded as
evidence of an increasing level of cooperation and understanding among the
Written by Heather E. Lindsay.