NAFTA and the Environment: A Trade-Friendly Approach
NAFTA and the Environment
NAFTA and the Environment: A Trade-Friendly Approach
Bradly J. Condon 0
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NAFTA and the Environment: A
Although the North American Free Trade Agreement,
(NAFTA), contains more detailed environmental provisions than any
previous trade agreement,' only some of them are mandatory. These
mandatory NAFTA environmental rules purport to prevent the use of
environmental policy instruments as disguised barriers to trade. Since
most human activities have some impact on the environment, a vast
array of government regulation could potentially be characterized as
relating to the environment. This fact increases the risk that domestic
industries will exploit political discretion over environmental policy
implementation to put foreign competitors at a disadvantage by
raising non-tariff barriers to trade.
It is important to distinguish between the selection of
environmental policies and their implementation; that is, between means and
ends. The NAFTA preserves political discretion to determine policy
goals themselves and favours political solutions to conflicts that arise
between trade and environmental policy. However, it restricts the use
of trade restrictions to implement environmental policies.
Environmental policy instruments must be chosen for their effectiveness in
achieving environmental goals, not their effectiveness as a means by
which to restrict trade or to protect domestic industry.
* The author holds the position of Director for North American Business Studies, Faculty of
Business Administration at Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre. This article was
presented at a conference on Sustainable Development in Calgary, Alberta, at the University of
Calgary (Mar. 26, 1994).
1 Canada, NAFTA - Environment, in CANADA AND THE NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE
AGREEMENT, Issue Series (1992) (on fie with author).
THE PRINCIPLE OF NoNDISCRIMINATION
The principle of nondiscrimination requires standards and
regulations to treat the products of all Parties equally.2 Trade rules are
concerned primarily with preventing discrimination by limiting the extent
to which countries may discriminate between domestic products and
imports, between imports from different countries, and between goods
sold in the domestic market and those exported.3 If environmental
policies are not implemented so as to discriminate between countries
or between domestic and imported goods, they are unlikely to violate
the trade rules.4 In short, the principle prohibits favouratism, not
The environmental provisions are exceptions to the general rule
of nondiscrimination. 5 Thus, the first step in any analysis of whether
an environmental standard violates a trade agreement requires a
determination of whether it violates the principle of nondiscrimination. 6
If the environmental standard does not discriminate, then that is the
end of the matter, and there is no need to determine whether it meets
the conditions set out in the provisions that deal specifically with
environmental standards.7 On the other hand, if the standard is found to
be discriminatory, the issue then becomes whether it is nevertheless
permitted under an exception to the general rules. An environmental
standard that violates the rules against discrimination may
nevertheless be allowed to stand if it meets the conditions set out in the
2 North American Free Trade Agreement, Dec. 17, 1992, Can.-Mex.-U.S., arts. 301, 1202
and 904(3), 32 I.L.M. 296, and 32 I.L.M. 612, [hereinafter NAFIA].
3 TRADE AND THE ENVIRONMENT, GATT 7 (1992) (on file with author).
5 "Environmental provisions" refers to GATT Articles XX(b) and (g) and the equivalent
provisions in the FTA and the NAFTA. These provisions prohibit "arbitrary or unjustifiable
discrimination", implying that discrimination may be justified in certain circumstances. See
generally NAFTA, supra note 2, art. 2101(2).
6 While there may be specific provisions that do not flow from the principle of
non-discrimination, it is beyond the scope of this paper to explore them. For the purposes of this discussion, I
will assume that there are no such rules.
7 In Lobsterfrom Canada,1990 WL 299945 (May 25, 1990), (U.S.-Can.-F.T.A. Binational
Panel) an FTA panel ruled that once a measure that deals with both foreign and domestic
products is found to be consistent with the national treatment obligation of Article I1,not only is
there no need to consider the environmental exceptions, but there is no need to consider any
other obligations either, in this case, those prohibiting import and export restrictions under
Article XI. See also Ted McDorman, Dissectingthe FreeTradeAgreement Lobster PanelDecision 18
CAN. Bus. Li. 445, 453 (1991).
CONCEPT OF LEGITIMATE OBJECTIVES
The NAFTA prohibits standards that create unnecessary
obstacles to trade.8 If a party demonstrates that the purpose of a standard
is to achieve "a legitimate objective" and that it does not exclude the
products of another Party that meet that objective, the standard is
presumed to not create an unnecessary obstacle to trade. The
definition of "legitimate objective" includes environmental protection, but
excludes protection of domestic industry.9 The inclusion of
environmental protection in the definition of "legitimate objective" appears
at first glance to grant national governments unrestricted access to the
vast array of measures that can be characterized as having an
environmental objective. But the apparent freedom to pursue environmental
protection at any cost is tempered by the prohibition against
protectionist actions, which restricts access to trade-restrictive
environmental policy instruments. Thus, not all forms of environmental
protection can be characterized as pursuing a legitimate objective.
There is an important difference between the concept of
"legitimate objective" in Article 904(4) of the NAFTA and the equivalent
provision in the Canada-UnitedStates Free TradeAgreement, (FTA).10
FTA Article 603 uses the term "legitimate domestic objective". The
deletion of the word "domestic" implies that the NAFTA Parties may
employ trade-restrictive measures to implement not just domestic
environmental policies, but extraterritorial environmental policies as
well. Provided the measure has the aim and effect of achieving a
legitimate environmental goal, NAFTA Article 904(4) would permit each
Party to use trade-restrictive measures to protect the environment
both within and without its national territory. However, the
unrestricted use of such measures could undermine both the sovereignty
of each Party and the free movement of goods between them.
Moreover, they could be subject to protectionist abuse. Therefore, the
NAFTA subjects the right to pursue environmental objectives via the
use of trade restrictions to several conditions regarding their use.
8 NAFTA, supra note 2, art. 904(4).
9 NAFrA, supra note 2, art. 915.
10 Canada-UnitedStates Free Trade Agreement, Dec. 22, 1987-Jan. 2, 1988, Can.-U.S., 27
I.L.M. 281 [hereinafter FTA].
MEASURES RELATING TO ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
In order to prevent protectionist abuses of environmental
regulation, the NAFTA subjects trade-restrictive environmental standards"
to a three-stage test, which asks:
1. Does the standard relate to environmental protection?' 2 For
example, is the trade restrictive standard directly connected with an
environmental programme and primarily aimed at achieving an integral
aspect of that programme?
2. If so, does the standard create an unnecessary obstacle to trade? For
example, is a trade restriction necessary to achieve the
3. If a trade restriction is necessary, has the least-trade-restrictive
measure been chosen? For example, is the degree to which trade is
impeded essential to achieve the environmental goal in question?' 4
The first test asks whether the purpose of a standard is to protect
the environment, or whether its true purpose is to protect domestic
industry from competition. It flows from the requirement that
traderestricting standards must "relate to" one of the categories of
environmental protection if they are to be exempted from the strict
application of the principle of nondiscrimination. The requirement that a
measure "relate to" environmental protection refers to the trade
measure requiring justification, not to the environmental policy of which it
forms a part. This first stage of the analysis exempts a broad array of
measures from the strict application of the principle of
nondiscrimination.15 In Article 904(1), the requirement that a measure "relate to"
environmental protection is a threshold test that must be met before
11 If a standard does not restrict trade, Chapter Nine of the NAFTA does not limit its use,
since the Chapter applies only to standards that "directly or indirectly affect trade." See
NAFTA, supra note 2, art. 901(1).
12 See NAFTA, supra note 2, art. 904(1). NAFTA Article 2101 uses the same test in respect
of environmental measures relating to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources.
13 See NAFTA, supra note 2, art. 904(4). NAFTA Article 2101 uses the same test in respect
of environmental measures necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health.
14 The least-trade-restrictive test is implicit in NAFTA, Articles 904(4) and 2101. See
discussion infra part VII.
15 In contrast, an FTA panel interpreted the words "relating to" in GATT Article XX(g) to
mean that a measure cannot qualify as relating to conservation unless it is the least
trade-restrictive means of achieving the conservation goal. See In the Matter of Canada'sLanding
Requirement for Pacific CoastSalmon and Herring,1989 WL 250302 (Oct. 16, 1989) (U.S.-Can. F.T.A.
Binational Panel) [herienafter, Canada's Landing Requirment]; see also, Jean Anderson &
Jonathan T. Fried, The Canada-U.S.Free TradeAgreement in Operation, 17 CAN.-U.S. LJ. 397,
403 (1991) [hereinafter, Anderson & Fried]. In the NAFTA context, this interpretation of the
words "relating to" is not supportable, since the least trade-restrictive test is implied in Article
904(4), not in Article 904(1).
moving on to the other tests that scrutinize the legitimacy of trade
restricting environmental measures.
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, (GATT) and FTA
panels on Canadian regulations respecting Pacific Coast salmon and
herring 6 have developed a "primarily aimed at" test interpreting the
words "relating to" under GATT Article XX(g), which is
incorporated into the NAFTA by Article 2101. This test characterizes the
purpose of a measure by comparing its effect on the environment to
its effect on trade. If the measure is not an effective means of
environmental protection, but is an effective trade barrier, then the measure
does not "relate to" environmental protection and is treated as a
simple trade barrier and not as an environmental measure.
In Article 904(1), the phrase "relating to protection of the
environment" refers to measures that are a part of the framework of
environmental policies of the nation imposing the measure. Its purpose is
merely to identify such measures, not to evaluate whether their effect
on trade is necessary nor to consider the availability of alternative
means of achieving those environmental policy goals. It is intended to
guard against the imposition of protectionist measures under the guise
of environmental protection. If a trade restriction is not related to an
environmental protection programme, or some other legitimate
objective, the implication is that its purpose is to protect domestic industry
from competition, and it will be ruled inconsistent with the NAFTA.
On the other hand, if the restriction is related to environmental
protection, the analysis then proceeds to the second test.
V. NECESSARY RESTRIcTIONS ON TRADE
The second test asks whether the obstacles to trade, created by a
standard that relates to environmental protection, are really necessary
to achieve the environmental goal in question. It flows from the
requirement that standards not create "unnecessary obstacles to
trade."' 7 Interpretations of the term "necessary" in GAT Articles
XX(b) and (d) may provide some guidance to NAFTA dispute panels
regarding the application of this test. GATT Article XX(b) is
incorporated into the NAFTA by Article 2101.
Under the GATF, to demonstrate that a trade restriction is
necessary to achieve compliance with domestic environmental standards,
16 Report ofthe GA7T Panel Canada-Measures Affecting Exports of UnprocessedHerring
and Salmon, 4.6, GAIT Doc. L/6268 (March 22, 1988), BISD, 35th Supp. 98, 114. See
Canada's Landing Requirement,supra note 15.
17 NAFrA, supra note 2, art. 904(4).
an importing nation must prove several things. First, and most
obviously, compliance with the standard must be possible. 8 Second, there
should be international consensus that trade restrictions are the most
effective means available to achieve the standard's environmental
goal. At the very least, there should be no international consensus
that the trade restrictions are unnecessary. If that were the case, it
would be extremely difficult to overcome the burden of proving the
trade restrictions necessary.' 9 Third, the importing nation must prove
there are no equally effective and reasonably available means of
achieving the environmental goal without restricting trade2 0 For
example, it must prove that genuine efforts to resolve the problem
through bilateral or multilateral negotiations have failed.21 Fourth,
the standard must be necessary to address an environmental problem
inside the territory of the country enacting the measure. Thus, a
standard will not qualify as necessary if it addresses a problem that only
occurs outside the importing nation." Nor will it be necessary if it
purports to address a domestic problem, but does nothing to restrict
domestic activities that are a cause of the problem.3
The analysis of whether a trade barrier is necessary under the
NAFTA is similar to that under the GATT. However, the NAFTA
analysis differs in one important respect. The concept of legitimate
objective in the NAFTA permits the use of trade restrictions to
protect the environment outside the importing country when the NAFTA
Parties have agreed, under Article 104, that such restrictions are
essary.2 4 Otherwise, the analysis is largely the same. If a trade
restriction is unnecessary to achieve a particular environmental goal, the
trade restriction must be replaced with a policy instrument that
achieves the goal without restricting trade. However, if restrictions on
trade are necessary to achieve the environmental policy goal, the issue
then becomes whether the importing nation has chosen the
leasttrade-restrictive means of doing so.
THE LEAST-TRADE-RESTRICrIVE MEASURES
The third test asks whether a standard that must create obstacles
to trade to effectively achieve its environmental goals has chosen the
least-trade-restrictive alternative available. That is, is the degree to
which it restricts trade really necessary?' This third test may be
considered to flow implicitly from the second.
The drafting history of Article 904(4), when considered in
conjunction with Articles 102(1)(a),26 2101,27 and 104,28 indicates that its
drafters intended that this test be employed in determining whether a
trade restriction was necessary, but considered it unnecessary to
expressly include the words "least-trade-restrictive" in the final draft.
The February 21, 1992 draft of the NAFTA contains two versions of
Article 1203(2).29 The Canadian and Mexican version provides that
"... each Party shall ensure that standards-related measures.. .are the
least restrictive to trade." The United States version similarly
provides "technical regulations shall not be more trade-restrictive than
necessary to fulfill a legitimate objective."30
It could also be inferred that, having turned their minds to it, the
drafters decided to eliminate the test. However, the mere deletion of
24 NAFrA, Article 104 is discussed in more detail, infra Sec. VII.
25 This test is more explicit in NAFTA, Article 104, regarding the use of trade restrictions in
international environmental agreements. See NAFTA, supra note 2, art. 104(1).
26 NAFrA Article 102(1)(a) provides that, "The objectives of this Agreement... are to: (a)
eliminate barriers to trade in, and facilitate the cross border movement of, goods and services
between the territories of the Parties."
27 NAFTA, Article 2101 incorporates GATIT Articles XX(b) and (g), and applies to the
entire NAFTA and to environmental protection and resource conservation. Both articles have
been interpreted to implicitly apply the least-trade-restrictive test. Regarding the interpretation
of Article XX(g), see Canada'sLanding Requirement,supra note 15. For an interpretation of
Article XX(b) see Thailand - Restrictions on Importation,supra note 19; GAT: U.S.
Restrictions on Tuna, supra note 18.
28 NAFTA, Article 104 sets out the circumstances in which the trade obligations of
environmental and conservation agreements take precedence over the NAFTA. See discussion infrasec.
29 Available from the Action Canada Network, Ottawa, Ontario (on file with author).
30 Id art. 1203(2.2) (on file with author).
the explicit statement of the least-trade-restrictive test from Article
904(4) would be insufficient to eliminate it, because Article 2101
incorporates GATT Articles XX(b) and (g) and applies them to the
NAFTA as a whole, including Chapter Nine. There is no doubt that
the least trade-restrictive test is implicit in Articles XX(b) and (g),
given the GATT and FTA panel reports to that effect. Moreover, the
test is consistent with the primary objective of the NAFTA to
eliminate barriers to trade." If the drafters had intended that the
leasttrade-restrictive test not apply to domestic standards, they would have
had to make that intention explicit in order to override past
interpretations of Article XX and to counter the interpretive effect of Article
102(1)(a). Finally, the implicit inclusion of the test in Article 904(4) is
consistent with the equivalent provision under the new GATT
Standards Code being negotiated under the Uruguay Round. 2
If the importing nation has chosen the least-trade-restrictive
method of implementing its environmental policy, then the measure
has succeeded in complying with the requirements of the NAFTA.
However, if there is a less restrictive method of achieving the goal,
that method must replace the one that was challenged. This is
precisely what occurred in a case under the FTA respecting Canada's
requirement that all salmon and herring caught off the British Columbia
coast be landed at British Columbia fish stations. The United States
challenged this measure as an export restriction that was designed to
favour Canadian fish-processing plants. Canada said the measure was
necessary to ensure accurate data collection for the purpose of
managing the resource. The FTA panel ruled that, while it was necessary to
land eighty to ninety percent of the catch in Canada to ensure proper
data collection, it was not necessary to land one hundred percent in
Canada. Canada and the United States subsequently agreed to allow
twenty to twenty-five percent of the catch to be landed outside
Canada, subject to a further review regarding the effect on data
31 See NAFTA supra note 2, art. 102(1)(a).
32 The proposed Agreement on Technical Barriersto Trade being negotiated under the
auspices of the GATT Uruguay Round of trade negotiations similarly introduces criteria and
procedures for determining whether product and process standards are "more trade-restrictive than
necessary to fulfill a legitimate objective." See E.U. Petersmann, Trade Policy, Environmental
policy and the GA77 Why Trade Rules and EnvironmentalRules Should Be Mutually
Consistent, AussENwiRTscnAFr 197, 218 (1991).
33 See Canada'sLanding Requirement,supra note 20, Anderson & Fried, supra note 15.
TRADE RESTRICTIONS AIMED AT EXTRATERRITORIAL
According to the GATIT panel report in the Mexican Tina case,
the GATI does not permit the unilateral use of trade restrictions to
protect the environment outside the territory of the importing
nation. 4 One may extract the following principle from this case:
[M]easures taken against environmentally-friendly products (tuna)
because they were produced in an environmentally-unfriendly manner
(unacceptable taking of dolphin) are inconsistent with the GATT.
Countries cannot look behind a good to determine if the production or
manufacturing process was environmentally-friendly.3 5 If the product
itself if environmentally-unfrien3d6ly, then a country could utilize trade
measures against the product.
Like the GATT, the NAFTA focuses on product, not process,
standards.3 As a result, the NAFTA does not permit a state to
unilaterally impose trade restrictions to equalize perceived competitive
disadvantages flowing from differences in process standards. This is
reflected in Article 1114, which discourages each party from relaxing
process standards in order to gain or maintain competitive advantages
that might result. Article 1114 provides no mandatory obligation
regarding the selection of process standards.3 8 The focus on product
standards and the lack of legal obligations with respect to process
standards in Article 1114 reflect the goal of the NAFTA to preserve
the discretion of each Party to determine its own domestic
However, Article 104 provides express permission to employ
trade restrictions to achieve international environmental goals
pursu34 GATT. U.S. Restrictions on Tuna, supra note 18.
35 Ted McDorman, The 1991 U.S.-Mexico GATT PanelReport on Tuna and
Dolphin:Implicationsfor Trade and Environment Conflicts, 17 N.C. J.INT'L L. & COM. REG. 461, 473 (1992).
36 Id. at 473 n.79.
37 The requirement to accord equal treatment to "like products" prohibits product
differentiation based on environmental standards observed in the production of the products concerned.
See NAFTA, supra note 2, arts. 301 and 904(3), which incorporate GATT Article III. The GATT
term, "like products", and the NAFTA term, "like goods," refer to the nature and properties of
two competing although not identical products. But the expression "like product" may have
different meanings according to the context in which the term is used. Hence, product
differentiations based on production processes (e.g. health standards) may be GATT-inconsistent if they
are "applied to imported or domestic products so as to afford protection to domestic
production" (Article 111: 1,2,5), to discriminate in favour of certain supplier countries (Article I), or to
unduly interfere in foreign regulatory systems by making most-favoured-nation treatment
subject to conditions (Article I). But they may be consistent with GATT rules (Article III) if they
are applied as nondiscriminatory production or consumption standards with a view to protecting
health and environmental resources in the importing country.
38 See NAFrA, supra note 2, art. 1114(2).
ant to specific international conservation and environmental
agreements.3 9 Where there is a conflict between the trade obligations in
those agreements and those of the NAFTA, those agreements prevail
to the extent of the inconsistency. Article 104 implies that, where
there is a conflict between trade obligations under the NAFTA and
environmental obligations under other agreements, the NAFTA
obligations prevail unless the competing agreement is listed in Article 104
or Annex 104.1. The anticipated inclusion of further bilateral and
multilateral environmental agreements in Article 104, via Annex
104.1, implies further that efforts to conclude such agreements
between the NAFTA Parties are to precede, and indeed replace, any
resort to unilateral trade actions. The principle of Article 104 is that
international environmental considerations cannot justify restrictive
trade practices, except where these are introduced in terms of specific
provisions in an environmental convention that is accepted by all of
the Parties. With the incorporation of this principle, the NAFTA
affirms the sovereign right of each country to determine its own
environmental policies while at the same time recognizing the reality of
environmental and economic interdependence.
In effect, Article 104 deems trade measures taken under the listed
international environmental agreements to be measures relating to
legitimate environmental objectives and deems them necessary. It thus
exempts them from the application of the first and second stages of
the three-stage test. However, the least-trade-restrictive test also
applies to the use of trade restrictions under Article 104. It is implicit in
the Article 104 requirement that "where a Party has a choice among
equally effective and reasonably available means of complying with
such obligations, the Party chooses the alternative that is the least
inconsistent with the other provisions of this Agreement."' In order
for a measure to be the least inconsistent with the other provisions of
the NAFTA, it would have to be the least inconsistent with the free
movement of goods and services between the Parties; that is, the
VIII. THE STATUS OF INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL
AGREEMENTS BEFORE NAFTA
All of the listed agreements were signed long after the GATT
was. This raises the issue of whether these agreements would have
prevailed over the GATT in any event, as a matter of international
law as between the parties to both. Neither the GAIT nor any GAIT
panel decision has clearly set out whether Articles XX(b) or (g)
prevail over subsequent international agreements as between parties to
both. The prevailing view of public international law is that the later
law supersedes the earlier, and that the specific supersedes the
general. The specific trade obligations in the agreements listed in Article
104 would supersede the GAIT provisions on both grounds under
international law. Moreover, the GATT (and the FTA), as interpreted,
apply the same "least-trade-restrictive" test as NAFTA Article 104(1)
to the implementation of environmental policies. Insofar as the
GAIT is concerned, Article 104 thus represents a codification of
existing law rather than a change in the status quo.
When one compares the FTA to the NAFTA in this regard, the
first thing to note is that FTA Article 103 applies only to existing
agreements to which both the UnitedStates and Canadaare parties - a
confirmation of the principle that the later supersedes the earlier law.
Thus, it does not apply to the Basel Convention or the amendments to
the MontrealProtocol,neither of which existed when the FTA entered
into force, nor to the La Paz Agreement, to which Canada is not a
party. We are thus left with the following issues, the answers to which
will determine whether the NAFTA alters the status quo vis-a-vis the
The first issue is whether the provisions of the Basel Convention
supersede the provisions of the prior bilateral agreement on
hazardous waste between the United States and Canada in any event. If so,
40 See NAFrA, supra note 2, art. 104(1).
the fact that the bilateral agreement is given priority under the
NAFTA would become irrelevant. The Canada-United States treaty
is far shorter than the Basel Convention. Its two key provisions are
Articles 3 and 6. 1 Article 3 requires the country of export to notify
the other country of proposed shipments. The country of import then
has thirty days in which to consent to, object to, or place conditions
upon the shipments. Article 6 requires the country of export to
readmit any shipment that is returned.
The Basel Convention has more detailed provisions. Article 6,
like Article 3 of the bilateral treaty, requires the exporting country to
provide notice of shipments. However, the importing country has
sixty, not thirty, days to respond - not a significant change in terms of
environmental protection or trade issues.42 Like the bilateral treaty's
Article 6, the Basel Convention in Article 8 imposes a duty to readmit
returned shipments. Thus, except for the notice period, the Basel
Convention imposes the same obligations as the bilateral treaty and
would supersede it. The net effect is that Article 104 does nothing to
alter the precedence of trade obligations dealing with hazardous waste
as between the NAFTA Parties. In addition, the Basel Convention, in
Article 4(3), classifies illegal traffic in hazardous waste as a criminal
offense. While it is unlikely that the FTA and the bilateral treaty on
hazardous waste would have been inconsistent, the FTA would
certainly not be interpreted as liberalizing criminal trading activities, and
would have been consistent with the Basel Convention on this point in
any event. In short, Article 104(1)(c) does nothing to alter the status
quo vis-a-vis the FTA.
The second issue is whether the FTA would have "liberalized"
trade in endangered species, given the fact that trade in endangered
species was already illegal in both the United States and Canada. If
41 It is worth noting as well the Preamble, which reaffirms principle 21 of the 1972 Stockholm
Declaration, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and principles of
international law, that states have "the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their
own environmental policies and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their
jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other states or of areas beyond the
limits of national jurisdiction." It is likely this principle would apply to the interpretation of the
NAFTA, pursuant to Article 102(2), as the bilateral agreement in which it is found prevails over
the NAFTA. Moreover, the NAFIA approach to trade and the environment is consistent with
this principle in that it maintains each Party's sovereign right to determine its own domestic
policies, making its rules mandatory only in respect of the implementation of those policies,
particularly in ways that infringe upon the sovereign right of the other Parties to set domestic
42 Moreover, this is a logical change, given that communication of notice between the United
States and Canada is faster and easier than between the Parties to the Basel Convention, who
span the globe.
not, again the fact that the Convention on the International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, (CITES), is given
priority under the NAFTA would become irrelevant. Article VIII of
CITES requires the parties to penalize trade in specimens in violation
of the Convention. Such a specific provisions would prevail over the
FTA's more general trade obligations under international law.
Moreover, the FTA would not be interpreted to support an illegal activity.
Thus, Article 104(1)(a) also maintains the status quo.
The MontrealProtocolentered into force in Canada on January 1,
1989 - the same date as the FITA. Since it has more specific provisions
than the FTA, it would prevail over the FTA provisions. Article
104(1)(b) thus also maintains the status quo, both with respect to the
GATT and the FTA.
MAINTAINING THE LEGAL STATUS Quo
The environmental provisions of the NAFTA regarding domestic
measures may be classified as falling under two categories: binding
legal obligations and non-binding political commitments. Those that
fall under the first category all confirm and adopt the GAIT and the
FTA rules on the use of trade restrictions to implement domestic
environmental policies. The objectives that govern the interpretation of
the NAFTA are the same as those of the FTA. The environmental
exceptions in Article 2101 are the same as those of the GAIT and the
ETA. Article 904(4) imposes the same discipline on the use of
traderestrictive standards as did the Standards Code and the FTA. Article
904(1) merely imposes a preliminary test, an insignificant change that
will not affect the key "least-trade-restrictive" test implicit in Article
904(4). Article 905's obligation to set levels of standards with
reference to international standards duplicates the same requirement in the
Standards Code and the FTA. The final provision in this category,
Article 2101, incorporates the GAIT Article XX exceptions without
any substantive modifications, like the FTA. What all these binding
provisions have in common is the fact that they maintain the status
All of the new environmental provisions governing domestic
environmental policies in the NAFTA fall into the second category. The
Preamble, Article 1114 and Article 907 all set out non-binding
political commitments, confirming the freedom of each Party to choose the
substance of its domestic environmental policies without jeopardizing
its trade privileges under the NAFTA. The Preamble merely sets out
vague political principles to follow in the formulation of
environmental policies. Article 1114 permits the use of political pressure to seek
changes in the environmental practices of other Parties, but not trade
sanctions. Article 907 sets out risk assessment guidelines without
making risk assessment mandatory. Finally, Articles 904(2) and
905(3) confirm the freedom of each Party to choose its own level of
environmental protection, making harmonization obligatory only
where it is politically feasible. In short, none of the new provisions
that deal with domestic environmental protection are legally binding.
Article 104, the only provision dealing with international
environmental protection, is new. It, like the domestic policy provisions, may
be divided into two categories. Article 104(1) is binding, while 104(2)
is not. The first paragraph sets out legal obligations, while the second
sets out a political commitment. Article 104(2) may thus be grouped
together with the non-binding domestic provisions.
Article 104(1), while a new and useful provision to include in
international trade agreements, does not change the legal reality that
existed prior to the NAFTA. In that it merely codifies and clarifies
existing public international legal principles as they apply to trade law,
Article 104(1), like Articles 2101 and 904(4), maintains the legal status
quo in the area of international law where environmental and trade
X. THE NORTH AMERICAN AGREEMENT ON ENVIRONMENTAL
The North American Agreement on Environmental
Cooperation,43 (NAAEC), is the so-called "parallel environmental accord"
that the Mulroney, Bush and Salinas administrations promised in
response to environmental opposition to the NAFTA. The Clinton
administration supported this side agreement as a means to address
perceived deficiencies in the environmental provisions of the NAFTA,
particularly the non-binding nature of Article 1114." However,
negotiators had to seek to address these environmental concerns in a
manner that would (1) be fully consistent with the NAFTA, (2) not supply
new tools for disguised protectionism, and (3) respect the sovereignty
of each nation.4" The NAAEC that was signed September 13, 1993
found innovative ways to enhance continental environmental
protection without creating new non-tariff barriers to trade. Its key
achievements are that it sets up a dispute settlement mechanism through
which complaints may be lodged against any NAFTA country that
persistently fails to enforce its domestic environmental laws.
However, each country remains free to set its own environmental policies
and laws without interference from the others. The NAAEC focuses
on enforcement of laws rather than their formulation.
The NAAEC contains two major weaknesses that will be of
concern to North American environmentalists, and Canadians in
particular. First, the management or exploitation of natural resources is
excluded from the NAAEC, removing a major set of environmental
issues from its scope.4 6 This is, however, consistent with international
legal principles that affirm each nation's sovereign right to exploit its
own natural resources as it sees fit.47 The second, and more
fundamental, weakness is that the NAAEC is not binding on any Canadian
province that does not agree to abide by it, and Canada cannot
enforce the Agreement against Mexico or the United States unless the
environmental law in question would fall under federal jurisdiction in
Canada or, if not, a majority of the provinces have signed on to the
Most of the provisions of the NAAEC consist of non-binding
political commitments that set out a framework for voluntary,
trilateral cooperation on environmental protection. The creation of
accompanying institutional structures enhances the likelihood that the
three NAFTA countries will follow through on these commitments.
However, the progress that is made will depend in large part on the
political will of the governments in power, which in turn will depend
on the priority the citizens of each country assign to environmental
46 Art. 45.2(b) provides that "the term 'environmental law' does not include any statute or
regulation ... the primary purpose of which is managing the commercial harvest or exploitation
of, or subsistence or aboriginal harvesting, of natural resources." NAAEC, supra note 43, art.
47 See, for example, the Stockholm Declarationon the Human Environmentof 1972, which is
reaffirmed in the NAAEC Preamble (copy on file with author).
48 NAAEC, supranote 43, at annex 41. If a matter would fall under provincial jurisdiction in
Canada, Canada cannot take action unless provinces accounting for at least 55 percent of
Canada's GDP have signed on and, where the matter concerns a specific industry or sector, at least
55 percent of total Canadian production takes place in the provinces that have signed on. British
Columbia and Ontario, which together account for about half of Canada's GDP, could therefore
prevent Canada from playing any significant role under the NAAEC.
The NAAEC establishes a Commission for Environmental
Cooperation, comprised of a Council, a Secretariat and a Joint Public
Advisory Committee.49 The Council is charged with developing
recommendations on a wide range of environmental issues, providing
a forum for their discussion, and promoting trilateral environmental
protection. 50 However, implementation of the Council's
recommendations is not mandatory. Rather, the recommendations are to be
made public, which will then give citizens an opportunity to put
pressure on their governments to implement them.
The Secretariat, which will be located in Canada, will receive
complaints that a NAFTA Party is failing to enforce its environmental
laws. Notably, the Secretariat will receive submissions from persons
or non-governmental organizations from all three countries, providing
environmentalists from all three countries with a new forum in which
to be heard.51 This is particularly significant for Mexican
environmentalists, who have complained that they do not have adequate access to
their own government in such matters.
Under Part 5 of the NAAEC, where a Party alleges that another
Party has persistently failed to effectively enforce its environmental
laws in sectors of its economy that produce goods or services traded
between the Parties, or that compete with the goods or services of
another Party, the Council administers a consultation and dispute
resolution system to resolve the matter. 52 The process begins with
consultations between governments. If the matter is not resolved within
sixty days, then other dispute resolution methods are employed until
the matter is resolved. First, the matter proceeds to an investigation,
then to conciliation or mediation, and finally to arbitration before a
panel of five experts in environmental law and international dispute
The Panel hears arguments and issues a report determining
whether there has been a persistent pattern of failure to enforce the
environmental law.54 If such is the case, the Panel recommends an
action plan sufficient to remedy the pattern of non-enforcement. If
the Party fails to fully implement the action plan, or another plan that
is agreed to by the NAFTA Parties, the Panel may impose a fine of up
49 NAAEC, supra,note 43, art. 8.
50 NAAEC, supra note 43, art. 10.
51 NAAEC, supra note 43, art. 14.
52 NAAEC, supra note 43, arts. 22, 23, and 24.
53 NAAEC, supra note 43, arts. 22-30.
54 NAAEC, supra note 43, arts. 31-33.
to twenty million dollars (U.S.).55 In the case of Canada, Panel
determinations will be enforced as orders of the Federal Court of Canada.56
In the case of Mexico or the United States, failure to pay the fine may
result in the re-imposition of tariffs sufficient to collect the fine.57
Fines are paid into a fund that is then used to enhance the
environment, or for environmental law enforcement in the Party complained
against, in a manner consistent with its domestic law. 8
Commitments to the pursuit of sustainable development are
found in both the NAFrA and the NAAEC. 9 However, "sustainable
development" is not defined in either treaty. It is a vague concept
that means different things to different people.' While it is beyond
the scope of this paper to provide an in-depth analysis of sustainable
development, it is important to examine the meaning of the term as it
is used in the NAFrA context and as it is reflected in several NAFrA
provisions. In the NAFTA, it has implicit status as a fundamental
principle that underlies the agreement as a whole. 61
Arguably, the concept of sustainable development has been
evolving into a principle of international law since its adoption by the
World Commission on Environment and Development,6' (WCED), as
the unifying concept underlying international economic and
environmental policy. In the trade arena, the WCED called for the inclusion
of sustainable development in the mandates of international trade
organizations, meaning that "their activities should reflect concern with
the impacts of trading patterns on the environment and the need for
more effective instruments to integrate environment and development
concerns into international trading arrangements".63
There are essentially two sides to the trade-environment issue,
both of which are implicit in the WCED comments regarding trade
and sustainable development. The WCED implies that international
trade agreements are a necessary part of the sustainable development
equation - the trade perspective on the trade-environment connection.
However, such agreements need to be accompanied by environmental
arrangements designed to ensure that the increased economic activity
generated by liberalized trade is sustainable 64 - the environmental
perspective on the trade-environment connection. From an
environmental perspective, the central issue is how to make trade environmentally
friendly. In North America, the environmental perspective is being
addressed under the NAAEC, in which continental institutions, such
as the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation,
will monitor the environmental protection efforts of Canada, the
United States, and Mexico and seek ways to minimize the
environmental impact of increasing international trade. 5 Insofar as binding
legal obligations are concerned, the text of the NAFTA concentrates
solely on the trade perspective.
The CanadianEnvironmentalReview of the NAFTA adopts the
WCED definition of sustainable development as "development that
meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs."' 66 Similarly, Canada's
Green Plan defines sustainable development as "integrating the
demands of our economy with the ability of our environment to sustain
us today and for future generations." 67 In the area of environmental
regulation, it advocates "the balanced use of strong and effective
envi63 Id. at 84. The removal of industrial nations' trade barriers to developing countries' exports
was identified by the WCED as a necessary element of sustainable development. WCED, infra,
note 74 at 83.
64 See WCED, supra note 62 This view was adopted by the Clinton administration, which
required that the NAFrA be accompanied by a parallel environmental accord. See also S.
HUDSON AND R. PRUDENCIO, THE NORTH AMERICAN COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENT AND OTHER
SUPPLEMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL AoREMENTS: PART Two OF THE NAFTA PACKAGE (1993).
65 See discussion in Part X, supra.For an overview of the issues considered in the parallel
negotiations, see Hudson and Prudencio, supra note 64.
66 WCED supra note 61, at 43; NAFTA: CanadianEnvironmentalReview, supra note 60, at
67 CANADA, CANADA'S GREEN PLAN IN BRIEF 2 (1990). This is consistent with the view
taken by 2 CANADA, REPORT OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON THE ECONOMIC UNION AND
DEVELOPMENT PROSPECTS IN CANADA, 509 (1985) "It will be essential in the decades ahead to
integrate environmental decisions and economic decisions, for there is... no ultimate conflict
ronmental laws, with market-based approaches for environmental
protection. '6 Underlying all of these definitions is the notion that the
concept of sustainable development, when applied to environmental
regulation, calls for the imposition of economic discipline on
environmental regulators. These definitions of sustainable development
imply further that it is the task of trade agreements to provide rules
requiring environmental regulators to choose instruments that
minimize the adverse impacts of environmental policy implementation on
international economic relations. The integration of economic and
environmental decision-making cuts both ways; economic policy must
be sensitive to environmental concerns and environmental policy must
be sensitive to economic concerns. The parallel environmental accord
and the NACE will focus on the former. The NAFTA, like the GAIT
and the Canada-United States FTA, focuses on the latter.
The GAT adopts the following view of sustainable
Although that term means different things to different people, most
definitions encompass two basic notions. First, there is a need to place much
greater emphasis on assigning values or prices to environmental
resources, with a view to identifying and valuing the environmental effects
of economic activity. Second is the idea that each generation should
pass on to the next at least as much capital - environmental and
manmade - as it inherited. Neither aspect of sustainable development is
intrinsically linked to international trade. A failure to place a value on
environmental resources would undermine sustainable development
even in a completely closed economy. Trade is seen, rather, as a
"magnifier." If the policies necessary for sustainable development are in place,
trade promotes development that is sustainable.69
In short, the concept of sustainable development requires no
change in the fundamental goals of trade agreements. Rather, viewed
from a trade perspective, the concept of sustainable development
requires renewed efforts to eliminate trade barriers and stricter limits on
the range of trade-restrictive policy instruments that may be employed
by governments to achieve environmental goals. Moreover, it implies
that trade agreements themselves need to be concerned with the
environmental perspective only to the extent that they ensure that they do
not undermine sustainable development policies. As long as the
ability of each trading partner to formulate sustainable development
policies is not impaired, then the trade agreement fulfills its part in the
between economic development and the preservation and enhancement of a healthy
environment and a sustainable resource base."
68 See CANADA'S GREEN PLAN IN BRIEF, supra note 67, at 27.
69 See TRADE AND T=E ENVIRONmENTr supra note 3, at 3.
sustainable development equation, leaving the development and
implementation of those policies to other agreements and institutions
such as the environmental and conservation agreements that are listed
in the NAFTA Article 104 and the NAAEC.
In seeking to promote both trade and sustainable development,
the NAFTA implicitly takes the view that free trade, like free markets,
provides a system through which protection of the environment can
be achieved.70 Regardless of what "sustainable development" means,
in the NAFTA context, and from a trade perspective in general,
sustainable development means that governments must minimize the
adverse economic impact of environmental regulations by avoiding their
use as instruments of trade protectionism. 71 In the trade context, the
principle of sustainable development requires "the fullest protection
of the environment with the least possible harm to trade."72
The concept of sustainable development requires a marriage of
economic and environmental decision making. In the NAFTA, the
concept makes the elimination of unnecessary trade barriers a primary
consideration in the choice of trade-related environmental policy
instruments by precluding the use of environmental standards for the
"protection of domestic production. ' 73 Both the WCED and the
GATI' consider protectionism to be an obstacle to sustainable
development.74 By incorporating the concept of sustainable development,
the NAFTA, whose goal is to prevent protectionism, implicitly adopts
the same view.
70 See McSlarrow, supra note 60, at 10,597. He sees this point of view as a necessary
prerequisite to achieving complementary trade and environment policies.
71 It is beyond the scope of this paper to fully explore the meaning of "sustainable
development." The purpose of the discussion of this concept is to attempt to determine how that term is
used in the NAFTA, without attempting to determine whether the NAFIA usage is in
accordance with other views of what the concept means. However, it is important to note that the
concept of sustainable development can be used to demand that environmental policy reflect
economic imperatives. See, David S. Cohen, The Regulation of Green Advertising, 25 U.B.C.
LAw REv. 225, 228 note 10 (1991).
72 McSlarrow, supra note 60, at 10,597.
73 NAFTA, supra note 2, art. 915.
74 The WCED stated:
The increase in protectionism in industrial countries stifles export growth and prevents
diversification from traditional exports. The success of some Far Eastern developing countries
in increasing exports of labour-intensive manufactured goods shows the development
potential of such trade. However, other countries - especially low-income Asian and Latin
American nations - seeking to follow the same route have found themselves severely
handicapped by growing trade barriers, particularly in textiles and clothing. If developing
countries are to reconcile a need for rapid export growth with a need to conserve the resource
base, it is imperative that they enjoy access to industrial country markets for non-traditional
exports where they enjoy a comparative advantage.
WCED, supra note 62, at 83.
Rather than limit political discretion with respect to the
formulation of environmental policy, the NAFTA seeks to limit political
discretion regarding its implementation, by subjecting environmental
standards and regulations to the general principle of
nondiscrimination, and to three legal tests aimed specifically at environmental
measures. These rules are not concerned with what environmental policies
should be but rather how they are to be achieved. Trade restrictions
may only be used to achieve environmental goals where they are the
most effective means of doing so. These binding provisions impose
the same obligations on the NAFTA parties as did the GATT and the
FTA. Even NAFJTA Article 104 maintains the legal status quo by
codifying, rather than altering, the pre-existing relationship between trade
agreements and environmental agreements. However, Article 104
does provide a legal mechanism whereby future environmental
accords may be incorporated into the NAFTA to ensure that the trade
rules do not undermine efforts to address common environmental
The NAFTA thus does nothing to weaken environmental laws. It
does nothing to strengthen them either. The legal effect of the trade
rules on environmental law is essentially neutral. However, the
NAAEC provides a framework within which the three parties may
cooperate in the development of continental environmental
protection that compliments continental economic development. At the
same time, it requires continental environmental protection schemes
to respect the sovereignty of each nation and to avoid protectionism
disguised as environmentalism. However, it does permit the
imposition of tariffs as a last resort should other methods of enhancing the
enforcement of environmental laws in Mexico or the United States
In the end, the amount of effort North Americans and their
governments put into achieving sustainable development will determine
the economic and environmental future of the continent, not the
words we find in our treaties.
18 In GeneralAgreement on Tariffsand Trade: DisputeSettlement PanelReport on the United States Restrictions on Imports of Tuna , 30 I.L.M. 1594 (August 16 , 191) [hereinafter GATT U.S. Restrictions on Tuna], the United States required foreign fishermen to kill no more than 1.25 times as many dolphins as American fishermen in the course of catching tuna. If they did not meet this condition, their tuna was banned from the American market. However, the foreign fishermen had no way of knowing in advance how many dolphins their American counterparts would kill in each year and thus could not know whether they had complied with the condition until after the fact .
19 Report of the GATT Panel, Thailand- Restrictions on Importation of and Internal Taxes on Cigarettes, GATT Doc. DS10/R (November 7 , 1990 ), BISD, 37th Supp. 200 , [hereinafter, Thailand- Restrictionson Importation]. Thailand tried to reduce consumption of imported cigarettes with trade barriers and discriminatory taxes, without trying to reduce consumption of domestic cigarettes. The GATr panel accepted evidence from the World Health Organization that non-discriminatory measures, such as labeling, advertising bans, and non-discriminatory taxes, provided effective means with which to achieve Thailand's health goals without restricting trade .
20 See Thailand - Restrictions on Importation, supra note 19 . See also Report of the GATT Panel UnitedStates - Section337 of the TariffAct of . 1930 , 5 .26, GATT Doc . IJ6439 (November 7 , 1989 ), BISD 36th Supp . 345 , 392 .
21 See GATT: U.S. Restrictionson Tuna , supra note 18.
22 See GATT: U.S. Restrictionson Tuna , supra note 18.
23 Thailand- Restrictionson Importation ,supra note 19.
43 North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation between the Government of Canada, the Government of the United Mexican States and the Government of the United States of America, 13 September 1993 , Can .- Mex .-U.S., available from the Canadian Government. [hereinafter NAAEC].
44 See discussion of Article 1114, supra note 37 and accompanying text.
45 Mexican Secretary of International Trade, Jaime Serra, Address to the Vancouver Board of rade ( June 1993 ).
55 NAAEC, supra note 43, art. 34 .
56 NAAEC, supra note 43, annex 36A .
57 NAAEC, supra note 43, art. 36 .
58 NAAEC, supra note 43, annex 34.
59 NAFrA, supra note 2. NAAEC, supra note 43, at 915, and the NAAEC Preamble and art . 1.
60 For example, there are two diametrically opposed views regarding the effect of trade on the environment. One is that the growth of trade leads to environmental degradation. See, eg ., P. BARKLEY & D. SErCKLER , ECONOMIC GROWTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL DECAY ( 1972 ); D. MEADOWS ET AL, THE LIMITS TO GROWTH ( 1983 ). The other is that growth through trade offers the best opportunity to ensure that the environment is protected . See, e.g., WORLD BANK, WORLD DEVELOPMENT REPORT 1992: DEVELOPMENT AND THE ENVIRONMENT ( 1992 ). See also Kyle E. McSlarrow, InternationalTrade and the Environment"Buildinga Frameworkfor Conflict Resolution , 21 ENVTL.L. REP. 10 , 589 , 10 , 590 ( 1991 ). It is highly unlikely either side would be able to agree on a common definition of sustainable development. The NAFTA implicitly adopts the view that trade liberalization and environmental protection can be pursued in a mutually supportive way. This point is discussed further in the text .
61 NAFrA supra note 2 , at Preamble. See also, NAFrA Environmental Review Committee, North American Free Trade Agreement: Canadian Environmental Review 13 ( 1992 ).
62 See World Commission on Environment and Development , ( 1987 ) [hereinafter WCED] .