New Report Charts NAFTA Environmental Record

Dec. 23, 2002
There's good news and bad news on the environmental front when it comes to the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the signing of NAFTA on Dec. 17, 1992, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) released a report detailing some of the effects of NAFTA on the environment. Produced with the financial support of the Ford Foundation, "Free Trade and the Environment: The Picture Becomes Clearer" summarizes the key findings of research presented at the first North American Symposium on Assessing the Linkages between Trade and Environment (October 2000). And it points to a relationship that is anything but simple.

"Contrary to some expectations, free trade has brought about advances in technology and management practices that have made positive environmental changes," said Victor Shantora, acting executive director of the CEC. "On the other hand, in some circumstances, free trade since NAFTA has also been linked to environmental deterioration."

The CEC was established by Canada, Mexico and the United States to build cooperation among the three partners in implementing NAFTA's environmental accord, the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation.

Among the key findings presented in the report:

  • Some border communities have suffered more air pollution. Local infrastructure improvements haven't kept pace with expanded road freight transport, leading to an increase in air pollution concentrations at U.S.-Canada and Mexico-U.S. border crossing points.
  • There is little evidence of a "race to the bottom." Differences in environmental regulation have not been a significant factor in determining where business investments are located.
  • The petroleum, base metals and transportation equipment sectors have all witnessed a marginal boost in the emissions of pollutants. By contrast, NAFTA-related contraction in Canada's base-metals industry coincides with a reduction in toxic releases from that sector.

"While there is much more to know, it is clear that trade liberalization accompanied by robust environmental policies can help achieve sustainable development-just as freer trade without adequate environmental safeguards can trigger degradation," affirmed Shantora. "The key lesson is that policy matters."

A second North American Symposium on Assessing the Environmental Effects of Trade will be held in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme on March 25-26, 2003, in Mexico City. Sixteen research papers will be presented and discussed on issues ranging from energy subsidies to invasive species and intensive livestock operations.

A copy of the report is available online at www.cec.org.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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