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Negotiating NAFTA.

THE CLINTON Administration is now embroiled in debate over the future of the nation's trade policies with Canada and Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has already been approved by Canada and Mexico but has not yet been sent to the U.S. Congress for ratification. As currently written, NAFTA is missing two basic elements: a mechanism for public participation and a means for protecting critical habitats along the border.

Public participation has been woven into the fabric of environmental protection since passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970. NEPA requires that major projects involving federal funds first conduct environmental impact reviews and provide an opportunity for public comment on those impacts. This requirement represents the best of our founding principles of informed, public participation and is integral to our concern for quality of life.

NAFTA, however, was negotiated largely behind the closed doors of politicians, and significant environmental elements were overlooked in the process. First, NAFTA does not assure that businesses operate by the same environmental standards in Mexico and Canada as in the U.S. Just as important, NAFTA leaves open the possibility that hard-won environmental standards imposed by states will be negated or ignored as unfair barriers to trade. The term "border ecology," implying a lower standard of protection, was coined of the polluted drinking water and open waste pits of the maquiladora communities along the U.S. border. Although it seems obvious that we must safeguard against the spread of "border ecology," senior public officials are still unable to answer these basic concerns regarding NAFTA. The environmental community is working to install a side agreement establishing a structure, the North American Commission on the Environment, that will have the power to at least discuss these issues.

The second fundamental element missing from NAFTA--a mechanism for the protection of critical habitats--is made all the more critical by the development pressures along the border that NAFTA will bring. Mexico's Sierra del Carmen, proposed since 1942 as a sister park to Big Bend National Park, remains unprotected despite repeated efforts to bring the dream to reality. Now, unless Mexico takes action, the site will become another target for vacation-home developers. Many other areas face the same fate: NPCA and other conservation groups have identified at least 15 potentially threatened natural areas along the borders that could qualify as parks, refuges, and wildernesses.

Concern for the environment is more than a concern for quality of life. At a minimum, NAFTA should honor the basic right of the people to participate in decisions involving the public welfare. NAFTA and other treaties will serve our best interest only when they fully involve the American people.
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Title Annotation:North American Free Trade Agreement
Author:Pritchard, Paul C.
Publication:National Parks
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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