NAFTA's Deadly Legacy: Corporate Profits Over People and Planet

The legacy of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), twenty years after implementation, is one of environmental degradation and corporate dominance, according to a report published Tuesday.

Governments on the verge of signing similar agreements—both the Transpacific (TTP) and Transatlantic (TTIP) trade deals— ought to take a “page out of the history books and stop negotiating trade pacts that gut protections for our air, water, land, workers and communities,” said Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, ahead of the report’s release.

The report, (pdf), summarizes more than 100 nonprofit, government and scholarly studies of the trade pact. It was written by the Sierra Club, Sierra Club Canada, the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC), the Institute for Policy Studies, and the Council of Canadians.

According to the study, the environmental legacy of the trade pact is both widespread and varied. From fueling the proliferation of Genetically Modified (GM) agriculture in Mexico to encouraging the development of Alberta tar sands, the results have been a disaster for people and the environment.

Summarizing the report, Huffington Post’s Mike McCauliff writes:

“These are not unfortunate side-effects,” say the authors of the report, “but rather the inevitable results of a model of trade that favors corporate profits over the interests of communities and the environment.”


According to the findings, perhaps the “most harmful components” of the agreement are the “vaguely worded” investment provisions that guarantee the right to claim damages when the value of an investment has been reduced, empowering multinational corporations to challenge any government environmental initiative in private trade tribunals.

The report warns that pending agreements—the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)—stand to “replicate many of the worst elements of NAFTA.” 

According to the report:

It continues:

The groups behind the new report urge government officials now considering the new deals to take NAFTA’s deplorable legacy into account as trade talks continue, but so far remain skeptical that the most important lessons have been learned.

“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,” said Alejandro Villamar, trade policy analyst with Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio, on the anniversary of the agreement.

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