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NAFTA: An Analysis of Its Environmental Provisions

February 1993

Citation: ELR 10067

Author: Steve Charnovitz

In negotiating a comprehensive trade accord, the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States have taken an important step to link and boost their economies. Although many believe the new pact — the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — would benefit the United States, NAFTA may run into formidable opposition in Congress on ecological grounds.1 This opposition has been brought to light by numerous environmental and consumer groups which have questioned whether NAFTA does enough to protect the environment and public health.

No disagreement, however, exists on the proper goal. Indeed, there is a strong consensus, shared by the Clinton administration, that NAFTA should seek to improve environmental quality. Last year, U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills told the congressional House Committee on Ways and Means, "This agreement does more to improve the environment than any other agreement in history."2

This Dialogue examines how well NAFTA achieves its environmental goals. The analysis is split into two parts. First, does NAFTA safeguard existing environmental standards? Second, will NAFTA raise the future level of environmental protection? The first question asks whether the agreement is sufficiently permissive; the second question asks whether it is sufficiently prescriptive. Following this analysis, an overall assessment of NAFTA's environmental provisions is offered and some matters that are not yet addressed by the agreement are discussed.

Mr. Charnovitz is Policy Director of the Competitiveness Policy Council. He has written extensively on trade issues. The views expressed should be attributed to the author only. This study draws upon analyses of NAFTA by Kenneth Berlin, Christine Elwell, Alex Hittle, Robert F. Housman, Stewart J. Hudson, Jeffrey M. Lang, Scott Nilson, Justin Ward, and David A. Wirth.

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