WHILE agriculture, film, and industrial subsidies dominate the headlines as negotiators struggle to meet a Dec. 15 deadline for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, environmental issues appear to be taking a back seat.
The North American Free Trade Agreement has established a minimal level of protection and standards that GATT also should reach. As legislators committed to securing passage of a viable agreement, we firmly believe that a strong environmental component is essential if GATT is to be ratified.
NAFTA's strong environmental side agreements make it possibly the "greenest" trade agreement ever negotiated. It provides many precedents that can be used to further the cause of environmental protection in international agreements. In particular, it calls for upholding America's tough health, safety, and environmental standards. The agreement also specifically states that a party may not lower its environmental standards or its level of enforcement to attract or retain investment.
To ensure that NAFTA's environmental provisions are upheld, a side agreement has established a North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, with an independent secretariat. The power of the commission will be backed by a unique mechanism that imposes sanctions or penalties on countries that persistently fail to effectively enforce their laws. It also contains a number of mechanisms through which countries will enhance cooperation on enforcement of environmental laws. Additionally, promoting public access remains a priority; under NAFTA, citizens of the US, Canada, and Mexico are granted rights to courts and administrative agencies in case of environmental harm.
To address bilateral trans-boundary …