A fair Trade?
Asthe presidential election approaches, a Tufts expert says thecandidates have been silent for too long on NAFTA and its impacton the environment.Medford/Somerville,Mass.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.24.04] Ten years after its adoption, the NorthAmerican Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) doesn’t come up oftenon the campaign trail. But it should, says a Tufts environmentalexpert, who cites growing evidence the agreement’s environmentalcosts outweigh its economic gains.
“Ina presidential campaign where trade policy and outsourcing dominatethe domestic debate, each candidate has surprisingly little tosay about NAFTA,” Tufts’ KevinGallagher – a research associate at the GlobalDevelopment and Environment Institute – wrote in anopinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Environmentalists,however, are growing increasingly vocal.
“Themajority of studies, including my own, show that the environmentaleffects under NAFTA have not been positive,” Gallagher wrotein the Chronicle. “The Mexican government estimatesthat the economic costs of environmental degradation as relatedto NAFTA have amounted to 10 percent of annual GDP. These costsdwarf economic growth, which amounted to only 2.6 percent on anannual basis.”
Agriculture,for example, has been seriously impacted.
“Thesurge in U.S. exports has put added pressure on poor corn farmersin Mexico,” he wrote. “This has caused not only increasedpoverty and emigration, but it also threatens the rich stock ofplant biodiversity cultivated by Mexico’s traditional farmersand relied on by the world’s crop breeders.”
U.S. cornproduction – on the rise due to NAFTA – is leadingto the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides in many areasof the country. Extensive irrigation systems, which may proveto be unsustainable over the long term, have also been needed.
Gallaghersays NAFTA has also spawned a new – and expensive –set of lawsuits aimed at defeating new environmental protectionlaws.
“NAFTAallows private firms to sue governments for actions, seen to be‘tantamount to expropriation.’ Under this provision,private firms have been successfully filing claims against U.S.,Mexican and Canadian environmental laws,” Gallagher wrotein the Chronicle. “The claims interpret new costsassociated with complying with environmental law as ‘tantamountto expropriation.’”
The costsare enormous.
“Californiais victim to a $1 billion claim from a Canadian firm over an environmentallaw to ban a gasoline additive that is threatening the state’swater supplies,” he wrote in the newspaper.
Despite theirrelative silence, the candidates are both involved in the issue.
“Onthe campaign trail, albeit quietly, Kerry distinguishes himselffrom the Bush administration by taking the position that he won’tsign any new trade agreements unless they contain strong environmentalstandards,” Gallagher wrote in the Chronicle. “Littleknown to the public, and even to many environmentalists, is thatBush has been inserting environmental provisions in trade agreementssince the day he took office.”
Polls showthat two out of three Americans don’t want trade policyto come at the expense of the environment. With the election fastapproaching, Gallagher says it’s time for the presidentialcandidates to be more vocal on the issue.
“Americaneeds a candidate who will see to it that all U.S. trade agreementswill preserve the ability of our country to continue to be a leaderin environmental protection and provide incentives for our tradingpartners to follow that lead,” Gallagher wrote.