Home News The Jungle

The Jungle

by Archives March 4, 2008

This week, Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both took aim at the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), promising that, if elected, they would revisit the agreement’s terms between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
That’s not so unusual: it was Canada back in the late 1980s that pushed for NAFTA, while the United States didn’t care one way or the other. It was Canada that hoped to force the United States to implement environmental fail-safes, and failed. Interestingly enough, the trade agreement may never have gotten off the ground at all if not for an international organization for environmental protection.
Several NGOs, academics and environmentalists were concerned – with due reason – that NAFTA would wreak havoc on the environment.
Instead of incorporating environmental protection within NAFTA, a side agreement was signed, the North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC).
Last week, I spoke to the executive director of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation Secretariat (CEC), Felipe Adrián Vázquez. According to Vázquez, the secretariat was created by the three NAFTA partners to promote environmental cooperation, address regional environmental concerns and ostensibly, to promote the enforcement of environmental law.
Theoretically the CEC is there to protect the North American environment. In reality, without any enforcement capacity, it’s no more than smoke and mirrors. The CEC can make recommendations to states on their environmental issues, but cannot even force them to enforce their own laws, let alone create more stringent laws.
To give the CEC some credit, when NAFTA was being drafted in the ’90s, Mexican regulation advanced to try to meet some of the Canadian and American environmental standards.
“Since then, Mexican environmental regulation has advanced in 10 years what America and Canadia advanced in 20,” said Vázquez.
The CEC also allows regular citizens and NGOs to play a role in protecting their environment. If they believe their country is not respecting their own environmental standards, they can submit a claim or “citizen submission” to the CEC. The CEC analyzes the claim and if they find that it is valid, they contact the state and tell them that there is a breach in their environmental enforcement.
Even though the state does not have to comply with the law, citizen submissions can act as a “shaming mechanism.”
But NAFTA and corporate interests do have clout. NAFTA’s Chapter 11, the investor’s clause, allows any corporation to sue a state for millions of dollars if they remove their permit to operate, even if the state removes it due to environmental concerns. The Mexican government had to pay two multi-million dollar fines because two communities opposed the creation of landfills.
Canada has also had problems with Chapter 11. In the Ethyl v. Canada case, the Canadian government was sued for banning MMT, a fuel additive that have been linked to health concerns.
The Canadian government was not only forced to cough up $13 million, they were also forced to state publicly that there was no scientific basis to ban MMT due to health concerns.
Vázquez recognizes that this is a problem that is outside the CEC’s scope.
“It has been detrimental for environmental activism and for the public. If the public does not want a landfill in their backyard they are forced to pay,” he said.
The CEC still has a long way to go. But the CEC is not enough when monster corporations have tools such as Chapter 11 to ensure they can pollute freely.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment