After 20 Years of NAFTA, Do We Want More Trade Agreements?

On the 20th anniversary of NAFTA, environmental groups
across North America released a report that shows the harm it has done to
the environment, issuing a warning for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other secretive trade agreements currently being negotiated. The report summarizes over 100 studies of NAFTA.

"The evidence documented in this report
demonstrates that NAFTA has reduced the ability of governments to respond
to  environmental issues while empowering multinational corporations
to challenge environmental policies," the report says.

Besides that, NAFTA’s other significant impacts on the
environment are:  

  • Facilitated expansion of large-scale, export-oriented farming that relies heavily on fossil fuels, chemicals, GMOs and water;
  • Encouraged a boom in environmentally destructive mining activities in Mexico;
  • Undermined Canada’s ability to regulate its tar sands industry and locked it into shipping large quantities of fossil fuels to the US
  • Catalyzed economic growth in North American industries and manufacturing sectors while failing to safeguard against associated increases in air and water pollution
  • Weakened domestic environmental safeguards by providing corporations with new legal avenues to challenge environmental policymaking.

"These are not unfortunate side-effects but the inevitable result of a model of
trade that is designed to protect the interests of corporations instead of the
interests of communities and the environment," the report says.

It analyzes the
environmental effects of carbon- and resource intensive industrial growth
across the NAFTA region; how the agreement weakened the ability of
governments to regulate this growth; and how NAFTA’s weak environmental side agreement is incapable
of mitigating environmental damage.


In Mexico,
for example, free trade brought a boom in agricultural  exports from the US, benefiting Big Agriculture. 

How do you think that impacted small farmers in Mexico? It spurred deforestation as small farmers had to clear forests to expand their crop land. That’s the only way they
could compete as they were forced to shift from growing staple foods to high
demand export crops, which pay much lower prices.

Deforestation rates rose to 1.1
million hectares a year, exacerbating global warming trends and threatening
Mexico’s unique biodiversity. Even though Mexico banned growing GMO corn a decade ago, about 25% of the corn exported from the US is GMO, and it is contaminating Mexico’s
native corn.

Many small Mexican farmers ended up working in the US as undocumented immigrants.

"NAFTA led to expansion of deforestation and unsustainable water use to
support export-oriented agriculture. It gave massive rights to corporations to
challenge environmental and climate safeguards in private trade tribunals. It
expanded exports in dirty fossil fuels in a time when we should be moving
beyond these outdated fuels and investing in clean energy. Governments must
take a page out of the history books and stop negotiating trade pacts that gut
protections for our air, water, land, workers, and communities," says Ilana
Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program.

As it stands now, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will replicate and expand on the worst
elements of NAFTA.

Here’s a vivid example: the US government wants to extend
intellectual property rights to corporate patents on plant and animal life, including
GMOs. That means, patent owners would have the right to sue countries that don’t want to import
their GMO products!

US-Europe Trade Agreement

For the US-Europe trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), chemical and
agricultural lobbies are licking their chops at the prospect of eliminating EU’s pesky regulations. The TTIP could free those industries to export their hormone and antibiotic-laden meat to the EU, overcoming their ban on these imports. The same is true for GMOs.

At the fourth round of talks underway this week in Brussels, these issues are holding back the TTIP. "There is an enormous gulf between the EU and U.S. positions," Michael Dolan, a US Teamsters union lobbyist, told Reuters. The trade deal – which covers almost half the world economy – "is likely to be smaller and more modest than its ambitions, because of so many intractable issues," he says.

Because of Europe’s ban on GMO food, they export much more food to the US ($16.6 billion) than they import ($9.9 billion in 2012). American farmers want that changed.

Most every week, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht repeats that Europe’s position against importing GMO food and beef raised on hormones will not change, reports Reuters.

Another requirement corporations are salivating over is their proposal that governments consult industry before any new public interest
policies are put into place on either side of the Atlantic.

Leaked documents from chemical industry associations in the US and EU show what
they are secretly negotiating: nullifying EU’s progressive toxic chemical laws so they can continue producing them unabated and without public input, while preventing
introduction of safe alternatives.

Ah, corporate rule! Sounds so inviting.

Read our article, The Sleeper: Why Canada Is So Confident the Tar Sands Pipeline Will Be Approved (hint: NAFTA).

Read the report, NAFTA: 20 Years of Costs to Communities & the Environment:

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