Watchdogs to Keep NAFTA Green Mexicans Look for Better Ways to Enforce Environmental Regulation in Face of Free Trade Agreement That Would Bring in More Industry

By David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 1993 | Go to article overview

Watchdogs to Keep NAFTA Green Mexicans Look for Better Ways to Enforce Environmental Regulation in Face of Free Trade Agreement That Would Bring in More Industry


David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


PUSHED along by environmentalists and politicians on both sides of the Rio Grande, momentum is building to create a new tri-national environmental watchdog agency.

The catalyst is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The pact will come up for ratification in the legislatures of Mexico, Canada, and the United States in coming months. But President Clinton says he will not back NAFTA's approval until Congress passes parallel legislation to prevent industries - and jobs - from going to Mexico or Canada to escape environmental regulations in the US.

"We must have some assurance on this," Clinton said in an Oct. 4 NAFTA speech, calling for an "environmental protection commission with substantial powers and resources."

Opponents say that for a trade agreement, NAFTA already has an unprecedented green hue, pledging "to promote sustainable development." To head off the environmental lobby, Mexico, the US, and Canada officially announced in September the formation of the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation.

But so far it's not much more than a name. What this commission will do, how much power it will have, who will be on it, and how it will be funded are wide open questions. High profile watchdog

What Clinton and the environmentalists want is a high profile commission to monitor enforcement of existing environmental and health regulations in all three countries.

The Group of 100, a leading Mexican environmental group, and the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council are among those pushing for a commission that includes environmental activists and academics, as well as government officials from the three countries. They want the commission to sponsor investigations, public hearings, and annual reports on compliance with environmental laws - including those governing toxic waste disposal, wildlife protection, and water and air pollution control.

The concept is likely to be fleshed out further in Washington on Feb. 19, when Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D) of Arizona hosts a meeting on the issue, sponsored by Mexican and US environmental groups.

Critics wonder why another environmental oversight body is needed if each of the three countries already has one.

"Because enforcement of environmental laws isn't happening now - and we're not just talking about Mexico," says Lynn Fischer of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Also, this environmental body will focus on trade. "The commission will point out `environmental subsidies' and problems which could distort trade and become trade disputes," Ms. Fischer says.

For example, the overcutting of a forest in the Mexican Sierra Madre mountains could become a trade dispute if it affects the habitat of an animal that migrates between Mexico, the US, and Canada. "If Mexico doesn't enforce its protection laws, Weyerhauser or some other US or Canadian lumber firm could claim that Mexican loggers have an unfair trade advantage," notes Pete Emerson, senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, Texas. …

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