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e-Journal

  Environmental Policy Issues

NAFTA Environmental Issues
(Released July 2000)

 

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Overview

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 agreements.

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). The report 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. border.

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 three nations.

Written by Heather E. Lindsay.