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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Canadian Environmentalists React To NAFTA

Air Date: Week of

The CBC's Glen Powell reports from Toronto on how some Canadian environmental groups are viewing NAFTA. They say the agreement provides little improvement over the current US-Canada free trade pact.


CURWOOD: Before talks began with Mexico, the US and Canada signed a free-trade agreement of their own four years ago . . . an agreement which for many offers a guide as to how the new North American pact may work. Environmentally, some say the US-Canada deal has been problematic. . . and as the CBC’s Glenn Powell reports from Toronto, Canadian environmentalists say the new trade deal may be only a slight improvement.

POWELL: Canada’s Minister for International Trade Michael Wilson says environmental protection is a cornerstone of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

WILSON: In fact it has more environmental protections than any other trade agreement. The NAFTA recognizes each country’s right to maintain environmental standards even high than those recommended by international organizations.

POWELL: But environmentalists in Canada are cautious in their appraisals. Janine Ferretti is executive director of Pollution Probe, one of Canada’s major environmental lobby groups. She says NAFTA’s environmental provisions indicate that all three governments have come a long way.

FERRETTI: They’ve obviously recognized the need to ensure that there are environmental safeguards in a trade agreement, and that is what, on the face of it, this trade agreement has.

Ferretti says, from an environmental standpoint, NAFTA is a beginning. But she says it lacks the tough regulations, the firm commitment to ensure environmental protection.

FERRETTI: Many environmentalists in all three countries were concerned that in fact a trade agreement that did not prevent a country from lowering its standards, would result in the creation of pollution payments. The remedy is not something with teeth, where there is a retaliatory measure taken, but it is consultation, which amounts to fifty lashes with a wet noodle.

POWELL: Ferretti says the agreement reflects three governments which first resisted environmental provisions but were forced to change their position in mid-negotiation. Zen Makuch is counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association. He says the fact that the three countries have agreed that none will lower standards to attract investment fails to face the reality of Mexico’s low-cost position.

MAKUCH: Nothing is being done to create a level playing field once again, because in this situation, we’re already dealing with a playing field that is tipped decidedly in Mexico’s favor.

POWELL: Makuch says the agreement will inevitably increase tensions between business on the one hand and environmentalists on the other. And he says when the two forces confront one another, history proves it’s the environment that loses. He says control of natural resources was lost under the Canada-US trade agreement, and for Canada, nothing has improved under NAFTA.

MAKUCH: Foreign governments and foreign companies will decide how quickly our forests disappear, how quickly our fish disappear -- and we know how current that issue is -- how quickly our energy reserves disappear. Under the Canada-US free trade agreement, for instance, we have virtually no control over the extent to which energies flow very quickly to the United States to serve their manufacturing and other business interests. We can only invoke any kind of control when a national security issue arises. These trade agreements spell the end of any control over our ability to conserve our natural resources for future generations of Canadians.

POWELL: There has been no official response here to the environmentalists’ criticism of the trade deal. The Federal Government is only beginning its sales pitch, and the environmental provisions will be high profile. But ratifying the agreement in Canada is not really a problem . . . the Mulroney government has a majority in both the House of Commons and the Senate. As a plank in an election agenda, however, NAFTA is not a winner. There’s little doubt that a Canadian public that didn’t like the Canada-US trade agreement will be any more receptive to a North American free trade agreement, with or without environmental safeguards. For Living on Earth, this is Glenn Powell in Toronto.



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