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Environmental Challenges for NAFTA and Their Solutions


Over the last few decades, the relationship between the United States, Mexico, and Canada have continued to strengthen; the three countries have in the past enjoyed close relationships in matters of trade and environmental relations. In fact, they are not only close neighbors but also share common environmental heritage, work together at times to solve across borders environmental challenges such as water pollution and disposal of hazardous industrial waste.

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However, they at times differ sharply over matters of resources management (Beghin and Portier, 1997), leading to serious sovereignty apprehensions and peevish disagreements. As a result of these close relations, the NAFTA pact was enacted in the late 20th century that aimed at promoting close trading ties in the three-party states via trade liberalization (Kelvin, 2004). The North American Free Trade Agreement, which was enacted in 1993 upon its approval by the United States Congress, had its objective clearly stipulated. Initially, the agreement sought to enhance trade and economic development mainly in the three-member states mainly the united statute of America, Mexico and Canada.

However, the integration seems to have enhanced the relationship between the United States of America and Mexico and somewhat sidelined Canada. Environmentally, Mexico has been identified as a country that has exhibited laxity in the enactment and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, perhaps the main reasons why many environments polluting industries and firms have tended to be concentrated either in Mexico or in the Mexican united states border(Beghin and Portier, 1997).

As a result, the North America free trade agreement has had and continues to have adverse effects either in Mexico or near the Mexican border with the United States. In order to save the region from further environmental degradation, while continuing to promote healthy trade relations within the three countries, several environmental conservation institutions, environmental checks and balances, and regulations have and continue to be put in place alongside the agreement.

In its initial objective, the agreement intended to do away with the prevalent cross-border trade protectionism, thus liberalizing trading activities in the three countries. Although it has so far succeeded in its initial economic objective, the emerging issue concerning the adverse environmental consequences that NAFTA poses to the region has taken the center stage and generated heated debate from various constituents who are party to its formation and implementation (Kelvin, 2004).

The environmental concerns have played a major role in winning NAFTA many critics that it currently has. Although the agreement has been hailed for its achievement in promoting trade and industrialization in North America, NAFTA has produced counterproductive effects in terms of the environmental dander that it has and continues to pose to the region.

According to Beghin and Portier (1997) increase in trading activities have led to the dilapidation of the regions environmental infrastructure, irrespective of the parties having enacted measure and established institutions to avert the crises. This paper, therefore, discusses the environmental consequences that NAFTA has brought forth in the region within its jurisdiction and evaluates the ability of the present measures and initiatives to effectively tackle the challenges.

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The environmental challenges that free trade poses to the region

The North America free trade agreement has been harshly criticized by environmental concerned groups as a potential threat to the environment of the three countries further worsening the already volatile environment situation of the region. The greatest hit area has been earmarked as the US-Mexico border where trade liberalization has led to a concentration of industries and manufacturing plants (Kelvin, 2004, Beghin and Portier, 1997).

Although the agreement has to a greater extent succeeded in achieving its objective, it has been associated with dreadful environmental consequences that if effective and immediate strategies are not put in place to contain them at this early stage, they could degenerate into a regional environmental. The current environmental conditions in North America are a major blow to the environmentalists’ efforts to curb the global environmental challenges that are whose main fear is that they contribute greatly to the current global warming(Commission for environmental cooperation, 1996).

Right from the time the NAFTA negotiations were ongoing, the proponents believed that the enactment of the agreement would generate autonomous and effective solutions to the Mexican environmental challenges. However, opponents of the integration foresaw that the agreement would deteriorate the already worse Mexican environment pointing out that the Canadian and United States highly polluting firms will relocate to Mexico since it is for typical slowness and laxity in enacting and enforcing environmental conservation initiatives. As a result, Mexico is likely to become a haven for pollution from the United States and Canadian firms.

Since its inception to and until today, NAFTA environmental consequences have remained the main sources of argument as well as the subsequent enactments to mitigate the effect of the agreement. The issues that have continued to revolve around NAFTA have been a continuous diagnosis of the possible environmental effects, the issue of border financing, and the formulation and implementation of the agreements related agreements.

NAFTA critics who include various environmental groups argue that the trade competition generated by commercial liberalization among the three countries harms the environment within the region and its environs. In addition, it stated that the expected industrial growth stimulated by free NAFTA would further weaken the environmental infrastructure in the border region (Kelvin, 2004).

Although the North America free trade agreement has established institutions to handle the environmental challenges and which have played a central role in lessening the NAFTA-related environmental concerns, severe environmental consequences that have come with the agreements persist (Beghin and Portier,1997). In fact, majority of the environmental conservation groups largely blame NAFTA for the deteriorating environmental conditions and is greatly opposed to further trading agreements and initiative arguing that the region can no longer stand further trading oriented environmental concerns.

While appraising the achievement of the NAFTA agreement, the author, contended that the trade agreement was not solely responsible for the worsening environmental conditions in North America but contended that the environmental situation in the US-Mexico border was extremely deplorable despite all institutions and initiatives being put forth to improve them (Kelvin, 2004).

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As a result of this integration, a wide range of serious environmental concerns has come up, from acid rain as a result of industrial waste, dumping of raw sewage, overusing chemicals and fertilizers in agriculture, differences over individual party states environmental policies and practices among others. the introduction of regional integration (the North America free-trade area – NAFTA) has as a result drawn sharp reactions and criticism by the environmental communities.

For instance, the United States environmental group was against the integration pact arguing that’s the soaring of industrialization in Mexico as a result of trade and investment regulations changes would further dilapidate the Mexico environmental infrastructures (Kelvin, 2004). In addition, the group argued that the integration and the application of the then Mexican law would promote environmental dumping.

The increased competition that would result from liberalization was suspect to have the potential of causing a race to the bottom situation in the region further weakening the environmental conditions within the three members states. Indeed, they pointed out that NAFTA did not have adequate measures to guard against environmental abuses by the member states. It is these environmental issues especially the seemingly unfit Mexican environmental policies that acted as the main impediments to the Negotiations.

The North America free trade agreement had to include several environmental-oriented considerations for it to win the approval of the United States Congress. However, the environmental inclusions have been faulted as been inadequate by the ever-increasing and dreadful challenges that the agreement poses to the environment of the three countries (Beghin and Portier, 1997). As a result, the parties to the agreement especially the United States of America have been at the forefront to improve the constituents of the agreements to effectively handle the challenges.

For instance, the US has since the establishment of NAFTA to a greater extent influenced the Mexican environmental policies. For instance, air pollution in Mexico City has now soared beyond controllable height posing one of the most frightening environmental challenges for Mexico and neighboring countries (Kelvin, 2004).

Other environmental problems that NAFTA has caused include intensification of soil erosion air and water contamination, and problems of disposing of solid waste. With all these environmental problems and the threat that increase in economic activities continue to pose to North America, the region can no longer rely on the current institutions and strategy if they will succeed in containing further environmental destruction (Commission for environmental cooperation, 1996).

As a result, more effective environmental conservation infrastructures for effective and efficient control and curb further degradation following the enactment of the NAFTA. For instance, Mexico has failed to effectively manage its economic growth rate in an environmental manner (Commission for environmental cooperation, 1996). As a result, of the introduction of the North America free trade area agreement and subsequent liberalization of commerce, trading and industrial activities have increased vehemently over the last decade and failure to enact adequate and efficient measures to avert its environmental effects.

Although there are institutions that have been put in place by and alongside NAFTA to address the environment, they are clearly insufficient to adequately handle the environmental challenges that NAFTA has itself created. The environmental institutions that have been put alongside NAFTA include the North America commission for environmental cooperation (NACEC) the North America agreement for environmental cooperation (NAAEC), the commission for environmental cooperation, and many other environmental community groups.

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However, the mandate and jurisdiction of these institutions are acutely limited thus making them unable to effectively handle these challenges. In addition, they are not sufficiently equipped and funded to deal with environmental challenges. To be effective, therefore, the involved parties need to put adequate and well-honed strategies and institutional mechanisms to aid in curbing the emerging environmental challenges as well as improving the current regional environmental situations (Commission for environmental cooperation, 1996).

These institutions should also be able to prevent unacceptable extents of environmental degradation. If there are no adequate and correct laws and controls, environmental law, enough capacity and willingness to enforce them, to prevent an increase in trade-oriented environmental destruction. The governments have to take apt measures and be at the forefront to introduce and ensure timely enforcement of environmental regulations since such regulations and enforcements are not determinants of organizational locations as is presented by evidence from Mexico. The government of every country needs to take decisive steps to protect their environment since the environmental regulations are not likely to cost the country so much in terms of lost investment than it would be the cost of environmental degradation.

Insufficiencies of environmental institutions

Following the inadequacies and ineffectiveness of the institutions and strategies that have been put in place to handle the environmental challenges that have been presented by NAFTA, there is a great need for environmental communities and society to continuously call for review and all times improvement of the latter to sufficiently deal with these ever-emerging challenges. Furthermore, governments and environmental conservers cannot rely on the present and old measures to deal with environmental challenges since they might be ineffective in meeting modern environmental problems.

The cost of environmental remediation i.e. the cost incurred in repairing or cleaning up the polluted and degraded environment is very high. As a result, it is important for the current ineffective measures of dealing with the ever-soaring environment degradation as a result of increased trading and industrialization must be challenged either formally or informally to be consistent with the current environmental challenges.

In addition, the current environmental laws and regulations will have to be reviewed to see to it that environmental destruction is maximally prevented. Furthermore, the measures must be fully-fledged with provisions to enable them to handle future emerging environmental crises. With the understanding of the potential effects that expansion in economic activities and trading that globalization and internationalization pose to the environment, the concerned authorities will enable the environmental commission and other authorities in North America to adequately prepare for such eventualities any other time they will have the intention to enter into an economic integration agreement.

The deterioration of the environment as a result of increasing trade and industrialization should indeed serve as a wake-up call for governments in North America to hone their preparedness measures before putting up a regional market liberalization move (Kelvin, 2004).


The North America free trade agreement (NAFTA) was approved by the United States of America congress in 1993 after heated discussion among the authorities of the three American countries’ parties. The three countries that are party to NAFTA are the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico the agreement’s objective was to liberalize and hence enhance trade and industrialization among the three countries.

Right from the beginning the question of the potential environmental impact of the move due to the expected increase in trade and industrialization was raised and measures put in place to handle the environmental challenge. However, serious environmental threats and problems are still being experienced in the region especially in the Mexico United States border. Such problems include air pollution from industrial emissions, water, and air contaminations, and problem in damping raw waste.

Some of the institutions that were established to handle environmental challenges in the wake of NAFTA include the North America environmental cooperation commission but the mandate and ability of the institutions to handle the challenges are acutely insufficient to handle the challenges. As a result, it is important for the authority to continuously review and improve to be consistent with the emerging environment needs and problems. More regulations and laws governing environmental conservation should be enacted and enforced.

Work cited

Beghin J and M Portier, Effects of trade liberalization on the environment on the Environment in manufacturing in the Manufacturing sector the world economy vol.20, 1997.

Commission for environmental cooperation, NAFTA effects: claims and argument, 1991-1994, Montréal, 1996.

Kevin P. Gallagher, Free Trade and the environment: Mexico, NAFTA, and Beyond, 2004. Web.

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