Document Type


Publication Date

January 1993




On September 16, 1993, United States President Bill Clinton and his counterparts in Mexico and Canada signed the environmental supplement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This environmental agreement addresses two main issues: enforcement of domestic environmental laws through possible trade sanctions and environmental cooperation among the three Parties-both to be implemented by a newly created Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC). Although increased environmental cooperation possesses no legal mandate per se and has been characterized by some as "green window-dressing," the CEC's authority to examine virtually any environmental issue related to trade is precedent setting. For example, the CEC will be able to study trade liberalization's profound effect upon land use practices and habitat conservation. The main NAFTA text, apart from the Clinton supplemental agreements, is a 2000-page document that establishes rules for more liberalized trade in most goods and services, protection of intellectual property rights, and various investment and procurement decisions. As part of its effort to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, the main NAFTA text establishes highly technical disciplines for judging trade-based environmental laws. The environmental supplement does not affect these disciplines, much to the chagrin of many environmentalists. The environmental supplement also does not address United States-Mexico border funding, which will be dealt with in a separate multi-billion dollar financial package and domestic appropriations. To date, NAFTA's potential impact on wildlife protection has been overshadowed by the past and future pollution problems spurred by increased investment and trade. Although pollution prevention and control are certainly important, and have an impact upon wildlife, ignoring conservation problems under NAFTA would be extremely foolish. Not only are scientific experts estimating that planet Earth could be losing hundreds of species per day, but United States trade-based wildlife laws are the most likely to be attacked under NAFTA as "illegal" non-tariff barriers to trade. In addition, with global natural resources already severely overexploited, it is vital to better define and integrate the concept of sustainable development into the international trading regime. Despite the temptation by conservationists to shoot arrows at NAFTA and other global trade agreements, the most productive course may be to establish rules that properly govern the relationship between international trade and the protection of all living natural resources.