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PHYSICIANS URGE NAFTA TO REQUIRE ENVIRONMENTAL SAFEGUARDS

 ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., June 2 /PRNewswire/ -- The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) this week urged legislators to seek a supplemental agreement requiring stringent environmental safeguards in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The trade pact was signed by the United States, Canada and Mexico last December and awaits Congressional approval.
 NAFTA establishes free trade between countries in North America but does not address the adverse impact of hazardous environmental agents on human health and safety, according to Dr. Elizabeth E. Gresch, president of ACOEM, an international society of 6,000 physicians specializing in occupational and environmental medicine. The Clinton administration is currently negotiating supplemental agreements to strengthen NAFTA's environmental and labor provisions.
 ACOEM believes the current NAFTA text may encourage U.S. companies to move to Mexico to avoid U.S. environmental regulations. "ACOEM wants the agreement to mandate uniform environmental regulations and ensure current U.S. standards are upheld in participating countries," said Gresch.
 ACOEM submitted a five-point plan to U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich calling for a supplemental environmental agreement before Congress approves the NAFTA trade pact. The plan addresses (1) border region clean-up, (2) differing environmental standards among countries, (3) enforcement of environmental regulations, (4) establishment of a trilateral governing commission and (5) funding for infrastructure requirements and environmental clean-up costs.
 -0- 6/2/93
 /NOTE:
 ACOEM POSITION ON ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS
 OF THE NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT (NAFTA)
 The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: ACOEM, representing over 6,000 physicians, is the world's largest medical society concerned with the health of the work force. Occupational and environmental medicine is a specialty certified by the American board of Preventive Medicine.
 The practice of occupational and environmental medicine has become increasingly important in recent years. Communities are in need of qualified medical professionals to provide them with sound scientific judgment in relation to environmental and occupational risks. ACOEM has met this need. Its specialists work to protect the health of workers and other populations potentially exposed to environmental agents.
 Status of the North American Free Trade Agreement: The North American Free Trade Agreement, signed last December, establishes free trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade and investment are eliminated or phased-out over time.
 Upon taking office, the Clinton administration proceeded to negotiate supplemental agreements to strengthen the NAFTA in the areas of the environment, labor and import surges. Once these negotiations are completed, Congress will consider the NAFTA, along with implementing legislation. This Congressional approval process is likely to occur in the fall.
 ACOEM Position: While ACOEM supports the concept of the NAFTA, the college is very concerned that the agreement not undermine environmental protection to the detriment of human health and safety. The potential impact of environmental agents can adversely impact this generation and future generations. Consequently, ACOEM advocates inclusion of strong safeguards to ensure adequate protection of the environment throughout North America. Specifically, the college strongly supports the passage of a NAFTA environmental agreement that addresses the following issues:
 -- Border Region Clean-Up
 NAFTA must include appropriate provisions to fund and enforce the clean-up of existing environmental problems along our borders with Mexico and Canada. Also, adequate environmental infrastructure must be guaranteed as part of the border clean-up.
 -- Differing Standards
 Under the current NAFTA text, existing U.S. environmental standards could actually be challenged as a "trade barrier." NAFTA should be designed to harmonize environmental standards, not to create this kind of downward pressure which would serve to weaken U.S. environmental standards.
 NAFTA also may encourage companies located in the U.S. to move to Mexico to avoid U.S. environmental regulations. The supplemental agreement should instead provide a deterrent to such avoidance by requiring U.S. companies that locate a plant in Mexico to meet U.S. environmental standards. This could take the form of special penalties, such as air, water or solid waste excise taxes imposed on products exported to the U.S. from such companies that fail to meet current U.S. standards.
 -- Enforcement
 Protection of human health requires enforcement of environmental standards by all parties to the NAFTA.
 While adequate environmental standards currently exist in Mexico, they often are not enforced. This lack of enforcement gives companies located in Mexico an unfair competitive trade advantage and substantially contributes to the erosion of the environment. Therefore, lax enforcement of environmental standards should be considered a violation of NAFTA.
 -- A Trilateral Commission
 ACOEM supports the creation of a trilateral national commission on the environment or some similar mechanism to ensure that the NAFTA countries maintain and enforce environmental laws which adequately protect the health and safety of workers and the public. A commission would have the broad function of overseeing and scrutinizing environmental laws to the degree necessary to assure that health and safety is not sacrificed as the economic benefits of free trade are pursued.
 -- Funding
 Absent from the NAFTA text is any funding mechanism to pay for necessary environmental clean-up costs, infrastructure spending requirements or environmentally safe, industrial practices in the future. The methods of environmental funding should be explicitly spelled-out in the agreement.
 (Revised June 1993)/
 /CONTACT: Kay Coyne of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 708-228-6850/


CO: American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ST: Illinois IN: ENV MTC FIN SU: LEG EXE

DC-IH -- DC014 -- 4416 06/02/93 11:23 EDT
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Date:Jun 2, 1993
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