Linkage Between Free Trade and the Environment

THE United States and Mexico share a 2,000 mile border. From San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, from Tijuana to Matamoros, the border is bursting with population growth, economic activity - and environmental problems. The beaches of Coronado and the waters of the Rio Grande are too contaminated for swimming. The rivers in Calexico and Nogales are a stew of arsenic, cadmium, and other toxic wastes. Environmentalists cannot accept, and will certainly oppose, any free trade agreement with Mexico that is not linked, directly or indirectly, to strong environmental accords. The more immediate issue, however, is whether environmentalists will oppose the "fast track" negotiating process.

For my part, I will support fast track provided the president's action plan makes a serious commitment to the resolution of environmental issues.

However, when and if fast track carries the day, our task as environmentalists will just begin. For we can't return in 1992 to support ratification of a free trade treaty on the basis of more promises or statements of intention. A free trade treaty will have to go to Capitol Hill accompanied by environmental treaties. And it is none too early to suggest just a few of the issues that must be resolved.

Border environmental losses. Our border with Mexico, once largely empty spaces, is now the most rapidly growing section of both countries. Without mutual, enforceable environmental standards, human health, water quality, and air quality will continue to decline. We must have a border environmental treaty that incorporates for both countries the highest of standards in either country. The fact that most maquila companies are American owned is one of many reasons to require strong environmental standards, including occupational safety standards, on both sides of the border. Environmental protection is, of course, more than a border issue, and our two countries must also negotiate for the ultimate extension of environmental standards throughout both countries.

Habitat and species protection. The destruction of forests, habitat, and endangered species in both countries should be the subject of a treaty to be negotiated and presented to Congress for approval along with a completed free trade agreement. Within the last several years, Mexico has taken meaningful steps to control the destruction of its tropical forests. Yet is has been slow to join international efforts to halt the destruction of wildlife. It has not yet agreed to join the Convention on Trade in E ndangered Species. And it has recently challenged American policy banning the import of tuna harvested with nets that kill dolphins. These are examples of the need for enforceable, bi-national treaties.

A new world trading and environmental agreement. The Mexican trade negotiations should serve as the starting point to explore the larger issue of the relation between environmental standards and the entire GATT world trading system. Just as environmental contamination does not respect the border between Mexico and the US, so it does not respect any other national boundary. Gains made between Mexico and the US will be illusory unless they are paralleled by progress in the world trading system.

The Bush administration will not yet concede the need for direct linkage between trade and the environment. In its view each boat must reach shore under its own sail. Nonetheless, the day is near at hand for both the Bush and Salinas administrations to understand the de facto linkage - if either boat sinks before reaching shore, there will probably be no chance for treaty ratification in 1992.

The day when environmental and trade issues can be treated separately is gone. The negotiations with Mexico are the proper place to begin transforming GATT into GATE, a General Agreement on Trade and the Environment.

The time is at hand for Americans to voice their confidence in North American free trade. It is also time to call for a larger vision - a new world order that includes expanded progress on the global environment. The place to start is close to home - along our own borders, on our own continent - with Mexico.

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