Albion Monitor /News

NAFTA Enviro Promises Not Being Kept

Little being done to supervise enviro concerns
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The environmental promise of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is being kept in only a few areas, according to a study by NAFTA's major environmental agency released November 18.

The 76-page study, prepared by the tri-national Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in Montreal, says progress in setting up work programs in environmental areas has been "slow," and that very little is being done to integrate environmental considerations into the work of other NAFTA-related agencies.

"There has been a paucity of contact, communication, and in some cases trust, let alone integrated decision-making and cooperation, between NAFTA's economic bodies with specified environmental responsibilities and the CEC itself," according to the report.

Despite promises by Clinton that NAFTA would result in spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Mexico border cleanup projects, very little has so far been done
The study will prove useful to NAFTA's environmental critics, according to John Audley, trade and environment coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. "The CEC is shining the spotlight on where we have to work," he said. "This is a blueprint for where we should be spending our time and effort in addressing our government."

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have expressed anger about NAFTA's impact on the environment, particularly along the heavily-polluted border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Despite promises by President Bill Clinton that NAFTA would result in spending hundreds of millions of dollars in border cleanup projects, very little has so far been done, according to activist groups. And while NAFTA was supposed to result in a decline in the number of toxic-emitting maquiladora (or assembly) plants along the frontier by diverting investment away from the border, maquiladoras have boomed, especially after the 1994-95 peso devaluation.

As a result, US environmental NGOs, which were split on NAFTA's ratification four years ago, solidly opposed Clinton's failed bid earlier this month to gain Congressional authority to negotiate new free-trade agreements with Chile and other Latin American nations.

"The failure of the administration to make honest their commitment to two billion dollars to clean up what the American Medical Association called 'a cesspool of infectious diseases on the border' has cost them dearly," remarked the Democratic Whip in the House of Representatives, David Bonior, earlier this month.

NAFTA includes a number of commitments to further environmental protection. Its preamble, for example, requires the three members to "undertake (economic activities) in a manner consistent with environmental protection and conservation" and to "strengthen the development and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations."

At the same time, a NAFTA side agreement, called the North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), established the CEC as the treaty's main institutional tool for monitoring the accord's impact on the environment and promoting greater protection. But, like the National Administrative Office (NAO) established under another side accord that covered worker rights, the CEC was given no real enforcement power. Its objective, according to its director, Greg Brock, is to investigate the facts and promote consultation and compliance.

So far, the CEC has received a total of 11 complaints, only one of which -- the environmental impact of the construction of a pier on the Caribbean resort island of Cozumel -- has been the subject of an investigation. At the same time, the agency has been frustrated in its efforts to forge a clear mandate and bring environmental considerations to the core discussions on freeing trade between the three countries.

Victor Lichtinger, the CEC's executive director, reportedly told environment ministers behind closed doors last month that they had failed to give the agency a clear direction or sense of priority.

"At various times, we were enjoined to go faster, at others to slow down," said Lichtinger, according to a leaked report. He also complained about the domination by trade ministries in each of the three countries of NAFTA's implementation.

No central authority to monitor compliance with environmental and other benchmarks
The new report, which was prepared by University of Toronto political scientist John Kirton and his colleague at the Autonomous Institute of Technology of Mexico, Rafael Fernandez de Castro, appears to bear out this analysis.

While it cites several examples of growing cooperation on environmental matters among the NAFTA partners, particularly on developing guidelines for accidents involving dangerous substances and exchanging information on pesticides and sanitary standards, it also finds major problems.

"Some NAFTA institutions have been slow to make progress, to the point that outsiders might begin to raise serious questions about the record of the governments in meeting their environmental obligations specified in the NAFTA text," the report says.

The report reflects even greater frustration with the CEC's efforts to integrate environmental factors in the work of NAFTA's main economic agencies, which include the FTC, and almost 50 committees and working groups on standards, agricultural trade, and trade in goods.

Apart from cooperation between the CEC and a technical working group on pesticides, examples of such joint work were rare, notes the report which faults the absence in all three member- governments of a single center that monitors the work of all of NAFTA's institutions to ensure their compliance with environmental and other benchmarks.

Worse, NAFTA's economic bodies are in some cases ignoring environmental requirements, according to the report. "In no cases have NAFTA's economic bodies acted on the permissive environmental mandates assigned to them by NAFTA, and in some areas their mandatory environmental responsibilities, from a political if not a legal standpoint, remain unfulfilled."

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Albion Monitor November 30, 1997 (

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