Green component to new free trade deal

How environmental regulations are enforced is key

Environmental concerns are front and centre in the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for Peter Bursztyn.

The Living Green Barrie member says how environmental regulations are enforced is key.

“Canada and the United States have similar, but by no means identical, environmental regulations,” said Bursztyn. “In other words, you’re not allowed to throw your crud into the neighbouring river. The amount of pollution you are allowed to send up your smokestack is limited.

“People, of course, cheat. By and large, they know there are penalties for cheating here. Both Canada and the United States, particularly the US, want to bring Mexico into line with it.

“But there’s a limit to how intrusive an American or Canadian inspector can be in Mexico,” said Bursztyn, 77. “But they are going to try to hold them (Mexico) to a decent standard, somehow.”

On Dec. 10, 2019, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland signed amendments to the new NAFTA – actually named the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA).

These changes include improvements in the areas of state-to-state dispute settlement, labour protection, intellectual property, automotive rules of origin and environmental protection.

“This is a progressive trade agreement that will be profoundly beneficial for our economy, for Canadian families, and for the middle class,” Freehand said. “It is excellent for hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers.”

Peter Bursztyn is founding member of Living Green Barrie (formerly Environmental Action Barrie).

Changes in the environmental regulations in CUSMA are designed to strengthen environmental obligations.

“They have environmental regulations on the books, but they don’t enforce them. I think that’s quite often true of Mexico,” said Bursztyn, who taught chemistry, science, energy and meteorology at Laurentian University (at Georgian College) for 15 years in Barrie.

“A third-party investigator will come round. That’s what’s supposed to happen here, but our governments often abdicate the responsibility and they allow industry to police itself, and we all know how well that goes,” he said. “Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn’t.” 

Similar to labour regulations in CUSMA, the burden of proof has been reversed in that failure to comply with an obligation is now presumed to be ‘in a manner affecting trade or investment between the parties,’ unless the defending party can demonstrate otherwise, the Canadian government says.

A new article has also been added to the agreement which recognizes the three nations’ existing commitments to implement certain multilateral environmental agreements which they have signed. 

Canada, for example, is required to implement its obligations in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer; the Protocol of 1978 Relating to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships; the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat and the Convention for the Establishment of an Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission.

CUSMA also deals with labour, but it might be a case of apples and oranges.

“Labour rates are the biggie, to get the labour rates up in Mexico,” Bursztyn said. “But it’s not quite equal. Your dollar goes a lot further in Mexico when you are buying things like milk and bread. It’s a lot cheaper than it is in the United States and Canada.” 

The United States and Mexico are, respectively, Canada’s first- and third-largest merchandise trading partners in the world. Canada is respectively the second- and third-largest merchandise trading partner of the United States and Mexico, and the largest export market for the United States.

In 1994, the United States, Canada and Mexico created the largest free-trade region in the world with NAFTA, generating economic growth and helping to raise the standard of living for the people of all three nations. 

images via Bob Bruton