Federal Judge Blocks Free Trade Agreement

Article excerpt

Environmental Impact Study Sought

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge blocked the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada on Wednesday until the Clinton administration analyzes in detail its likely effects on the environment.

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey said the White House should not send the accord to Congress until it first prepares a formal statement on its environmental impact _ a process that could take months or even years.

Clinton has insisted that Congress approve the agreement before January. But he admitted four weeks ago "it is going to be a very tough fight" with lawmakers who are convinced that the accord would export thousands of U.S. jobs to Mexico.

In a suit brought by three environmental groups, Richey ruled that the agreement negotiated last year by former President Bush and the president of Mexico and prime minister of Canada violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

"NAFTA will have significant environmental effects and . . . may worsen the environmental problems already existing in the United States-Mexico border area," the judge said in his 23-page decision.

White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers and Anne Luzzato, a spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, said the administration had not had an opportunity yet to review the judge's ruling in detail. They had no other immediate comment.

But both proponents and opponents of the accord said the court's action could have a devastating impact on the agreement's already fragile prospects in Congress.

"My fear is that NAFTA is finished unless this ruling is overturned," said Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo. "The president must appeal this ruling immediately. Hesitation or ambiguity . . . will further encourage the protectionist opponents of NAFTA to cloak their arguments in environmental rhetoric."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., an opponent of the trade accord, said the ruling "slows NAFTA down to a wagon train pace just when the White House was fixing to gun the engine and try to run this thing through the Capitol.

"My hope, although I doubt he will do it, is that the president would use this opportunity to send a bouquet, give a eulogy, declare it dead and start over" negotiating an entirely new trade pact, Dorgan said. …