NAFTA The Environmental Aspect
Warner Pacific College
July 23, 2009
The North American Free Trade Act. What on earth does this have todo with the environment? At fist, it hardly conjures up images related ecological concerns. Most people’s first considerations when NAFTA was introduced centered on economic issues. The reality is however, that NAFTA has long reaching impacts on the environment. This writer’s viewpoint is that many government or environmental regulations are written with good intent but often lack the funds, teeth or integrity to be enforced with the appropriate amount of vigor. While they may be better regulated within the US, they are poorly monitored or imposed in other countries in which we engage in trade or business agreements leaving us all exposed to the pollution they claim to attempt to abate.For instance, environmental verbiage injections into NAFTA were an afterthought and brought about only after various environmental and labor interest groups vocalized concerns for the lack of this consideration in this governmental initiative. The United States, Canadian and Mexican government responded by including provisions for sanitary and plant health considerations. It declared that NAFTAs implementation would not harm the environment. (Mumme, 1999)The problem with this is that in fact NAFTA has impacted the environment and not in a positive way. Mumme goes on to list three key issues with the current agreement: “NAFTA's trade protections are liable to abuse, threatening deterioration of environmental standards within the region. Flaws in procedures and programs also impair NAFTA's environmental institutions. NAFTA's environmental institutions are poorly funded by the three governments.” All three of these important key facts have been a hindrance to preventing the callout of NAFTA from doing significant damage to the environment.Take for example the situation that has evolved in Matamoros, a city right across the Mexican border from Brownsville Texas. In an article written by Mary E. Kelly, at one time this was a quite, primarily agricultural area, but no more. Since it is in such close proximity to the US- Mexican border it has now become a haven for numerous US companies to establish operations without having to be bothered with the scrutiny the US places on them for operating just a few miles away.Recent testing of the local drinking water in the area showed levels of xylene, a toxic solvent, 50,000 times greater than would be acceptable in US drinking water. Equally disturbing is that the while these companies are dumping massive amounts of waste illegaly even if they wanted to dispose of them legally, doing so is incredibly difficult. Kelly states:According to law, the waste must be sealed in barrels and transported to landfills. There are currently only two authorized sites in Mexico - one in San Luis Potosí and the other in Monterrey in the border state of Nuevo León. Rene Franco, an environmental consultant in Juárez, Mexico, says ‘the geographic location of these facilities, as well as their installed capacity, are far from satisfactory for existing industry, much less for the industry that will result from a free- trade agreement’.This combined with the fact that most companies do not even attempt to dispose of chemicals in legally safe ways has led to numerous health related issues in the area. Kelly’s article goes on to point out numerous cases of birth defects affecting many border towns where US companies have set up shop with unchecked waste being dumped without regard for the people, plants or animals that reside nearby.Environmental regulations at their heart appear to have good intentions. They are a beginning to a cleaner, healthier planet. The problem is that far to often they are not equally enforced or a solution to larger problems created by the very government that passes them.
Kelly M. E. (1992). Free trade and the politics of toxic waste. Retrieved July 15, 2009 from http://multinationalmonitor.org/hyper/issues/1993/10/mm1093_03.htmlMumme, S. (1999). NAFTA and environment. Retrieved July 14, 2009 from http://www.fpif.org/briefs/vol4/v4n26nafta.html