The Environmental Crisis is very real. Trade Agreements are doing nothing to solve it!

Forests are shrinking

deserts are expanding;

croplands are losing topsoil;

the ozone layer continues to thin

greenhouse gases are increasing

the number of plant and animal species is diminishing

air pollution has reached health threatening levels in hundreds of cities

damage from acid rain can be seen on every continent.

No more ‘business as usual’

For two days in April 1998 in Santiago, Chile, environmentalists from all over the Americas, including Canadians from Ontario, Quebec and B.C., met to share ideas and strategies for tackling environmental problems. In workshops on Citizen Participation, Forestry, Mining, Bio-diversity, and Energy we debated ideas for a ‘Citizens Agenda’. We proposed environmental safeguards that are not currently in the trade agenda being developed by governments. We agreed that working together on an international strategy to bring about change in the Americas we can make a difference.


Since 1988, Canadian governments have signed five “free” trade agreements: the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement with the US and Mexico ( NAFTA), the new World Trade Organization agreement (WTO), and trade deals with Chile and Israel. While people all over the world are becoming increasingly concerned about the environment, it is only recently that people have become aware of the role that trade agreements play in environmental problems. For example, environmental issues played a key role in the fight by an international coalition to defeat the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI).

• ‘Free’ Trade Agreements have limited the power of the Canadian government to manage our natural resources. For example:

– we don’t control how much of our nickel is mined and sold overseas;.

– we can’t decide to process that nickel locally to create more jobs;

– some of our resources are running out. (Our Atlantic fishery has already collapsed)

• Free Trade Agreements have limited our ability to establish environmental and health standards.

– The international standards we must follow are often developed outside Canada;

– Trade panels decide whether a particular standard is even “necessary”. This has led to the loss of some Canadian standards. (eg. regulations under the Fisheries Act)

• Free Trade Agreements have limited our access as citizens to decision-makers (who are often further away).

• Free Trade Agreements have increased the rights of corporations, giving them a bigger say.

– ‘Free’ trade is the excuse we get from politicians and bureaucrats for refusing to improve environmental laws as they cave in to industry anti-green lobbying.

The Canadian government is now preparing to repeat these measures in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).


There is another way of looking at our economy – by analyzing how what we produce, consume and waste affects the environment. An approach called ‘ecological footprint analysis’ measures how dependent we are on nature. For example, Canada’s ‘footprint’ on the world environment is the total land and water area we use up (here and in other countries) in order to support our standard of living. This includes the land/water it takes to produce everything we consume and to get rid of all our garbage.

When we look at the world this way, we find that:

• people in the world use over one third more resources than nature can replace;

• what people consume in one country affects people in other countries.

“What is 120 times the size of London, England? The land area or ecological footprint needed to supply London’s environmental needs.” (International Institute for Environment and Development, Citizen Action to Lighten Britain’s Ecological Footprints, London 1995)


Trade plays a key role by encouraging countries to exceed their local environmental limits. ( For example, Mexican and Columbian farmers are encouraged to produce more flowers for export, on land which should be used to grow food for local consumption). Trade, as practiced in the ‘90s, may represent the single most powerful mechanism in the world, governing global economics and the environment. Trade COULD be used as a tool for long term development and protection of the environment. We can not afford to let the trade bureaucrats get it wrong again!

Who are the Eco-pigs?
The earth only has 8.3 billion hectares of land that we can use. (The rest is under water or unsuitable for human use.) So we need to ask: Who gets to use these resources, given the limited capacity of the earth to support human activity? And how much does each country get to use?

Right now, as you would predict, the wealthy industrialized countries use up much more than their share of the world’s resources. As the chart shows, Canada uses 11 times more of the world’s land to support its population than India does.

The land it takes to support one person

Canada: 4.3 hectares per person

USA 5.1

Mexico 2.6

India 0.4

The world average 1.8