WASHINGTON -- A report due to be released Tuesday aims to offer an object lesson to President Barack Obama: Free trade deals have high costs in unintended consequences for the environment, people's way of life, and local sovereignty.
The report by the Sierra Club and other groups in Canada and Mexico, released on the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, summarizes more than 100 nonprofit, government and scholarly studies of NAFTA, and draws a damning picture.
Perhaps hardest hit is Mexico, according to the report, where expanded trade in agricultural products came at the expense of smaller farmers, who couldn't compete with a surge in pesticide-heavy factory farms. Small farmers resorted to cutting down forests to farm more land, and still failed. A boom in mining came at the expense of local landowners, with subsequent industrial pollution.
While the trade deal was billed as lifting all boats, the report argues that many of those displaced famers became undocumented migrants in the United States.
In Canada, while the improved access to markets meant that exports to the U.S. soared by more than 200 percent from 1994 to 2008, wages stagnated. In the petroleum industry, Canada was contracted to continue shipping a certain amount of oil to the U.S., encouraging development of the high-cost tar sands in Alberta at the expense of alternative energy.
Even in the U.S. -- beyond the impact on jobs -- NAFTA has meant pollution and obedience to foreign concerns. The report highlights Mexican trucking as the prime example. In spite of concerns over the safety and pollution of Mexican rigs, the Bush and Obama administrations have been forced to try and accommodate the vehicles from the south.
The report estimates that a significant jump in pollution can be linked to NAFTA, with greenhouse gas emissions in the region increasing from 7 billion metric tons in 1990 to about 8.3 billion in 2005.
The groups that contributed to the report want the White House to consider NAFTA's lessons as it weighs new trade deals with Pacific nations and Europe, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the U.S. and 11 other nations.
“Nearly 20 years into NAFTA and the evidence is in," Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, said in a statement. "NAFTA led to an expansion of deforestation and unsustainable water use in order to support export-oriented agriculture. It gave massive rights to corporations to challenge environmental and climate safeguards in private trade tribunals. It expanded exports in dirty fossil fuels in a time when we should be moving beyond these outdated fuels and investing in clean energy. Governments must take a page out of the history books and stop negotiating trade pacts that gut protections for our air, water, land, workers, and communities.”
“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, a trade policy analyst with Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio.
Read the whole report here.
Update: 6:45 p.m. Wednesday
A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative responded to the Sierra Club report, arguing in a statement that Obama administration is addressing many of the group's concerns in the deals it is trying to pull together now, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership:
The President has long made clear that NAFTA is in need of an update on key elements, including labor and environment provisions. That is exactly what we are doing through TPP, where we are pursuing an outcome that would modernize NAFTA to include enforceable environmental protection in the core of the agreement. In TPP, the United States also is working to take groundbreaking new steps to address environmental challenges, such as wildlife trafficking, illegal fishing, and illegal logging, all through robust and enforceable commitments. For those who dislike investor rights under NAFTA, TPP is the best vehicle we have to revise those rights to incorporate the new safeguards that the United States is proposing in the TPP.