Environmental Protection Vital Part of U.S. Trade Policy

By Jaroslaw Anders
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Environmental protection is a vital part of U.S. international trade policy, say U.S. trade officials, who argue that free-trade agreements recently negotiated by the United States are being used increasingly to enforce high conservation standards.

One of their priorities, these officials said in interviews with USINFO, is to provide new resources to help countries develop environmental regulation, evaluate environmental management, enhance enforcement and expand public participation in environmental monitoring and dispute resolution.

For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted workshops with officials from Bahrain and Oman on developing environmental impact assessments, a process for identifying and predicting the environmental effects of development actions.

In Morocco, EPA has conducted several training courses on environmental policy and law enforcement. A separate program focuses on the Moroccan textile industry, especially the laws and inspection regimes meant to control any related water or air pollution.

In the Dominican Republic, the United States has trained local officials on environmental inspections and law enforcement.  In Guatemala, U.S. officials are helping train community members and law enforcement officials on how to assess environmentally protected areas.

These and other initiatives stem from the 2002 Trade Act, which requires that U.S.-negotiated trade pacts ensure that trade and environmental policies are mutually supportive, enhance environmental conservation and optimize the use of the world's resources, the officials said.

Since 2002 all U.S.-negotiated free-trade agreements (FTAs) contain environmental chapters that require the parties to enforce their environmental laws and strive to ensure a high level of environmental protection.

As a result of the U.S.-Chilean FTA, for example, Chilean officials and private-sector representatives have participated in U.S.-sponsored symposiums on making production facilities more environmentally responsible. Other U.S. programs have helped train Chilean judges on environmental law, Chilean prosecutors on developing effective litigation for environmental enforcement and nongovernmental and academic communities on environmental decisionmaking.

“One of the success stories in U.S. trade agreements is that we do have these environment chapters, and that there are certain provisions in them that are enforceable,” an environmental policy official at the State Department told USINFO.

If a U.S. trading partner fails to enforce its environmental laws effectively and consistently, the United States can use the same dispute resolution tools as with any other trade disagreement, he said.

“But we never had to do that so far, and our view is that we should help ensure that they can meet their obligations through capacity-building work and through environmental cooperation that we do with them,” the official said.


Even before the 2002 Trade Act, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which entered into force in January 1994, was accompanied by the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, which encourages individuals and organizations to report environmental violations in their countries.

Also, Canada, the United States and Mexico work together to enhance environmental protection in North America within the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), an entity created under NAFTA. A key CEC initiative is the continentwide collection of data on releases of industrial pollutants to help industry, government and the public track environmental performance, identify strategies for pollution prevention and improve public health. (See related article.)

The NAFTA environmental agreement prevents a “race to the bottom,” or a flight of companies to countries where environmental laws are the least stringent and therefore the least expensive to observe, U.S. officials say. This concern remains valid, but today the tendency is to focus on potential environmental benefits of trade, they say.

That is why trade agreements with the United States usually are accompanied by “side agreements” and memoranda of understanding on environmental cooperation and assistance, a USTR official told USINFO.

The very process of negotiating a free-trade agreement with the United States puts a spotlight on environmental issues and raises the profile of environmental agencies of the trading partner, the official said.  The environment people learn about trade and trade policy, and trade experts learn about the environment. “So there is a lot of coordination at a domestic level that had not necessarily taken place in the past,” the official said.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Environment.