by William Waren, senior trade analyst
During his campaign for president, Donald Trump demonized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), calling it “the worst trade deal” and making false assurances that he would rework NAFTA, and other trade deals, to protect the American people. As the process to renegotiate NAFTA begins, Trump’s rhetoric and actions strongly suggest that he plans to step up his war on the planet.
Trump’s NAFTA “re-do” is highly likely to reflect many elements of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and specifically, the portions of the TPP that would undercut environmental regulations. The Administration’s statement on July 17 of its NAFTA negotiating objectives reinforces concerns that Trump plans to use a new NAFTA to hamstring effective environmental regulation across the board and accelerate global warming.
When we compare the evils of Trump’s new trade deal against reality of our current economy, the American people should be extremely concerned about the future of our environment. As trade renegotiations begin in Washington, D.C., on August 16, we compiled a list of ten ways this process endangers our environment.
1) NAFTA investment tribunals threaten environmental and climate safeguards across the board. Like the TPP, the new NAFTA is almost certain to allow global corporations to turn to secretive international investment tribunals to sue governments for millions or billions of dollars if environmental or other public interest regulations interfere with corporations’ expected future profits. These secret tribunals discourage government action like restricting oil and gas drilling, imposing pollution controls, and limiting the use of fracking (hydraulic fracturing).
For example: TransCanada, the company responsible for the Keystone XL Pipeline used a similar provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement to sue the U.S. for $15 billion after the Obama Administration halted construction on the project — a suit that was dropped only when Trump reversed policy and gave the project the go ahead
2) NAFTA trade tribunals also threaten people and the planet. NAFTA rules not contained in the investment chapter are enforced by government-to-government lawsuits before panels of trade lawyers. Those panels have the authority to impose retaliatory trade sanctions such as higher tariffs, but not money damages, on the exports of countries that fail to roll back regulations. This process also presents a threat to sensible environmental and climate policies.
For example: Disputes between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico concerning food safety or animal welfare regulations can be decided and enforced by so-called “chapter 20” trade tribunals.
3) NAFTA regulatory review threatens people and our planet. Regulatory review provisions in Trump’s NAFTA might establish administrative institutions like a regulatory review body. This could be thought of as an international version of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, created by Ronald Reagan, which has a reputation delaying and blocking federal agency regulations in the U.S.
The regulatory review process could also establish inappropriate procedures like mutual recognition of safety standards and a bureaucratic process for identifying alleged excessive burdens on business. This could slow down or stop promulgation of environmental, climate, and health regulations.
Among other negative consequences, regulatory review provisions could encourage the inappropriate use of business-friendly, cost benefit analysis that would hamstring public interest regulations. The process inherently gives disproportionate weight to quantitative data and economic costs, while diminishing the perceived importance of qualitative benefits such as saving lives, maintaining the equilibrium of the global eco-system, and protecting wild places.
4) NAFTA threatens sound climate policy. A new deal on NAFTA will likely ramp up global warming by increasing coal, oil and gas exports . Such “free trade” in dirty energy products would accelerate climate change across North America and around the world. Currently, NAFTA’s energy chapter limits Canada’s ability to restrict production of fossil fuels such as tar sands oil. This provision should be eliminated — but it is hard to believe that climate change denier Donald Trump will do so. Other NAFTA rules allow renewable portfolio standards, low carbon fuel standards, and other climate-friendly energy regulations to be challenged for impeding on the business of foreign fossil fuel firms. Trump is not going to willingly fix this problem.
Trump is also highly unlikely to accept new climate protections penalizing imported goods made with high climate emissions, nor is he likely to accept demands by environmentalists that any new deal include a requirement that the U.S., Canada, and Mexico use a “climate impact test” for policymaking.
5) NAFTA threatens green standards for public purchasing. Currently, NAFTA limits a government’s ability to use “green purchasing” requirements that ensure government contracts support renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable goods. Green groups are demanding that a revised NAFTA deal require all three governments to legislate a preference for goods and services with low environmental impacts in their procurement decisions. , Donald Trump is unlikely to agree to any such proposal.
6) NAFTA threatens deregulation of chemical safety standards. NAFTA renegotiation could result in a the roll back of effective regulations, put in place in California and other jurisdictions, related to chemicals associated with breast cancer, infertility and other illnesses. It also could block future reforms at the national level.
7) NAFTA puts family farms at risk. A new NAFTA deal is certain to increase the volatility of agricultural markets, putting sustainable family farms at risk and increasing corporate control of agriculture.
8) NAFTA threatens prudent food safety regulations. Like the TPP, a renegotiated NAFTA could give foreign food exporters greater powers to challenge border inspections, as well as authorize legal attacks on food safety standards. The deal could also substitute private food safety certifications for government inspections in many cases.
9) NAFTA will likely encourage GMOs. A renegotiated NAFTA deal could build in new protections for biotechnology and genetically modified organisms in our food. NAFTA countries could be obliged to quickly approve GMO crops and products . GMO labeling requirements at the state or local level might well be put at risk. Significant patent protections are likely to be given to biotech seed companies.
10) NAFTA threatens bees and our food supply. Like the TPP, a revised NAFTA could thwart efforts to stop the use of bee-killing neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides. Neonics are a leading cause of bee declines and a threat to crops that depend on bees for pollination.
Header photo via NPR.