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Trade Experts Reveal Costs of North American Free Trade Agreement

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Environmental Damages Underscore Risks of Unfair Trade
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Dan Byrnes (202) 495-3039 or daniel.byrnes@sierraclub.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On Thursday, trade experts from the United States, Mexico, and Canada came together to reflect upon the costs of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on working people, communities, and the environment. January 1, 1994 marked the first day of the implementation of the trade pact, and nearly 20 years later, communities are still suffering from its consequences. Thursday’s discussion coincided with a meeting of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the group in charge of overseeing the implementation of NAFTA’s environmental side agreement.


“Nearly 20 years into NAFTA and the evidence is in,” said Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program. “NAFTA led to an expansion of deforestation and unsustainable water use in order to support export-oriented agriculture. It gave massive rights to corporations to challenge environmental and climate safeguards in private trade tribunals. It expanded exports in dirty fossil fuels in a time when we should be moving beyond these outdated fuels and investing in clean energy. Governments must take a page out of the history books and stop negotiating trade pacts that gut protections for our air, water, land, workers, and communities.”


Since the signing of NAFTA, increased manufacturing under weak environmental safeguards and deplorable labor standards has harmed the global climate. Greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 13.3 percent in the U.S., 23 percent in Canada, and 67.1 percent in Mexico.


“We need a real change!” said Alejandro Villamar, Trade Policy Analyst with Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC).  “The total cost of environmental destruction each year in  Mexico since NAFTA is equal to 9 percent of the country´s gross domestic product.  Twenty years of neglect for environmental issues and handouts for investors under NAFTA is not only unsustainable, it’s unacceptable.”


In Canada, carbon emissions have skyrocketed, and there has been no significant new environmental policy since 1994 while many existing policies or environmental decisions have been challenged by U.S. companies as illegal under NAFTA’s investment chapter.


“When the United States, Canada, and Mexico signed NAFTA, environmental protection was an afterthought or potential distraction from the agreement’s true objective of encouraging unlimited corporate-led growth,” said Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with The Council of Canadians. “Twenty years later, it’s clear North American corporations had nothing to worry about. As an added insult, the current Canadian government has dismantled environmental legislation to attract new investment to tar sands, shale gas, and other polluting mining projects, which is also supposed to be illegal under NAFTA.”


Families and communities have not only been affected by increased pollution and other environmental hazards. Many have also lost jobs due to weak labor standards outlined in NAFTA.


“Twenty years later, NAFTA continues to fail workers in all three countries,” said Cathy Feingold, Director of the AFL-CIO’s International Department. “Rather than increasing employment, the agreement led to significant job losses in the U.S. and ongoing attacks on worker rights, wage stagnation, and degradation of work in all three countries.”


The U.S., Mexico, and Canada are currently in talks with other nations along the Pacific Rim to expand trade among what is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Public interest groups fear that the new trade pact will just be an expansion of the failed model of NAFTA.


“If only NAFTA countries could learn from the fiasco, but they are busy signing more NAFTA-like deals around the world, further taking away our ability to protect the environment and merely crossing their fingers that our ecosystems can sustain all this new growth,” Trew said.


Villamar agreed and said, “A new model of trade that includes binding environmental commitments, effective oversight of environmental obligations, and meaningful protections for communities and the environment is urgently needed now.”


About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit http://www.sierraclub.org.


About Mexican Action Network On Free Trade (RMALC)

The RMALC was founded in 1991 by a group of Mexican civil and social organizations to reflect on the implications of NAFTA and since its inception it was conceived as a part of an effort by the Mexican civil society to coordinate with to the struggles of the civil societies of the United States and Canada to ensure that trade deals favor the peoples of our countries and not just an elite of transnational corporations. For more information, visit http://www.rmalc.org.mx.


About Council of Canadians

Founded in 1985, the Council of Canadians is Canada’s leading social action organization, mobilizing a network of 60 chapters across the country. Through our campaigns we advocate for clean water, fair trade, green energy, public health care, and a vibrant democracy. We educate and empower people to hold our governments and corporations accountable.



The AFL-CIO is  the umbrella federation for U.S. unions, with 58 unions representing more than 12 million working men and women.  We work to ensure that all people who work receive the rewards of their work—decent paychecks and benefits, safe jobs, respect and fair treatment.

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