NAFTA: 20 Years of Costs to Communities and the Environment

It’s been 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) changed the face of North America. In a special report, commissioned by the Sierra Club looks at the costs.

January 1, 1994 marked the first day of the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The pact ushered in a new era of trade agreements that went significantly beyond core trade issues to include regulations and public interest policies related to agriculture, investment, energy, food and consumer safety standards, labor, the environment, and more.

The 20th anniversary of NAFTA is a moment to reflect upon the agreement’s harmful effect on North American communities and the environment. Although identifying all the causal effects of a single trade pact on the environment is difficult, the evidence documented in this report demonstrates that NAFTA has reduced the ability of governments to respond to environmental issues and it has empowered multinational corporations to challenge important environmental policies. In particular, this report finds that NAFTA:

• Facilitated the expansion of large-scale, export- oriented farming that relies heavily on fossil fuels, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms;

• Encouraged a boom in environmentally destructive mining activities in Mexico;

• Undermined Canada’s ability to regulate its tar sands industry and locked the country into shipping large quantities of fossil fuels to the United States;

• Catalyzed economic growth in North American industries and manufacturing sectors while simultaneously failing to safeguard against the increase in air and water pollution associated with this growth; and

• Weakened domestic environmental safeguards by providing corporations with new legal avenues to challenge environmental policymaking.