NAFTA 'Greenwash.' (North American Free Trade Agreement's Misleading Environmental Components)

By Tester, Frank | Canadian Dimension, January-February 1993 | Go to article overview

NAFTA 'Greenwash.' (North American Free Trade Agreement's Misleading Environmental Components)


Tester, Frank, Canadian Dimension


Appeasing middle class voters concerned about environmental issues is, in large measure, what the politics of the 1990s is about. Green products do just that They are a corporate sham; an attempt to give the appearance of taking environmental concerns seriously while changing little or nothing of substance. They are aimed at an audience with just enough access to power, political clout and conscience to be taken seriously, but with a social and political analysis which leaves it vulnerable to believing that corn flakes in boxes made of recycled fibre and anything with an |Environmental Options' label represents an important step in saving the planet. And, of course, corporate use of the term |sustainable development', especially by transnationals like Alcan -- the Aluminum Company of Canada -- is equally farcical. This Canadian corporate giant and promoter of global free trade has a track record of dipping into the public purse for hydro subsidies, stealing land from Native people and leaving the Jamaican countryside looking like a toxic tidal flat. Now they're after Bob Rae's NDP government for daring to discourage the use of aluminum cans in the beverage industry.

The environmental provisions of the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are another pathetic exercise in appeasement. In a short column, one can hardly do justice to the environmental platitudes sprinkled through its approximately 1700 pages. So here's a modest sample.

NAFTA has been described by William Reilly, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, as the "greenest trade treaty ever written." More accurately, NAFTA is another case of |greenwash'. Take a reference to |sustainable development' which is and will be bandied about as evidence of Mr. Reilly's claim. Article 904:4 of the agreement prohibits the Parties to the agreement from adopting standards which create "an unnecessary obstacle to trade between the Parties." The Article goes on to state that an unnecessary obstacle to trade shall not be deemed to be created if the demonstrable purpose of such a measure is to achieve a legitimate objective. Article 915 defines legitimate objectives. These include sustainable development.

This is a case of clever drafting -- one of many such cases throughout the text. Article 904:4 refers to the setting of standards -- only one, and certainly not even the most important consideration affecting so-called |sustainable development. The most critical factor in making development sustainable is controlling the rate at which resources are exploited. There is nothing sustainable about the rate at which Canadians are currently harvesting timber or going through oil and gas reserves in the country. There certainly hasn't been anything sustainable about the management of the fishery off either coast.

But the text of the North American Free Trade Agreement has already forclosed on the sustainable treatment of Canadian energy resources long before the reader gets to Chapter 9, which deals with standards. In Chapter Six, Canadians do exactly the same thing as was done under the Canada/US Free Trade Agreement; we give away our energy resources to the United States at a rate to be determined by the market. …

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