David Woger, Staff Member

After a year of negotiations, President Trump, Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto the President of Mexico, and Justin Trudeau the Prime Minister of Canada have signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While all three countries have signed the agreement, their comments have been less than unified. President Trump has touted that the deal, “will rebalance and modernize trade between the United States, Mexico, and Canada in a manner that greatly benefits American manufacturing…”[1] while Trudeau has shown less enthusiasm only going so far as to say that it will, “lift the risk of serious economic uncertainty that lingers…”.[2]  As these leaders sign the USMCA on the eve of the G20 Summit, where climate change will take center stage, some critics have focused on the lack of environmental protections in the new agreement.

The signing of the agreement was an important step, but each country must separately ratify the agreement. In the United States this will require congressional approval. With democratic control in the House of Representatives the finality of the signed agreement as to its specific text, and therefore environmental effects, are still unknown. There have been a wide range of opinions on both sides of the aisle that create uncertainty moving forward on the environmental protections, or lack thereof, in the USMCA.

Even in the creation of NAFTA, environmental policies often conflict with governmental trade policies.[3] Environmentalists often will want to use these agreements to shape environmental protections with trade partners or reduce certain environmentally unfriendly manufacturing processes.[4]  As limitations to trade are antithetical to the idea of trade agreements in general, a balance must be struck between these goals in agreements like the USMCA.

As this bill arrives in congress, the everlasting debate of how we should balance the goals of environmental protection with free trade will be worth watching.  Time will tell if the signing of this bill before an international discussion on climate change was just a coincidence or if these talks can help shape free trade in North America.

[1] Proclamation No. 9798, 83 C.F.R. 196 (Oct. 2018).

[2] Emily Rauhala, Trump Calls USMCA ‘A Groundbreaking Achievement.’ But Tariffs Have Turned Ties with Canada Cold, Wash. Post, Nov. 30, 2018.

[3] Symposium, Trade and the Environment: The Role of Regional Trade Agreements, Special Focus: North America Free Trade Agreement, 5 Geo Int’l L. Rev. 515 (1993).

[4] Id.