Animal and habitat protection groups split on North American Free Trade Agreement

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1993:

WASHINGTON D.C.––The U.S. Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled September 24
that the Clinton administration doesn’t have to produce an
environmental impact statement on the North American
Free Trade Agreement before it takes effect. The ruling
reversed a lower court ruling that would have required sev-
eral years of study before the pact could be submitted to
Congress for ratification.
Public Citizen, one of three plaintiffs in the bid to
delay or stop NAFTA, pledged to appeal to the Supreme
Court within a matter of weeks.
“This decision has cheated the American public
out of the right to know,” said Friends of the Earth director
Jane Perkins.

A detailed environmental impact statement could
have either averted or at least better informed a head-on col-
lision among major animal and habitat protection groups.
The chief executives of six of the biggest and most conserv-
ative groups appeared with vice president Al Gore on
September 15 to endorse the supplemental agreement on
environmental protection appended to NAFTA on August
12. During the next week, NAFTA and the supplemental
agreement came under heavy fire in full-page newspaper
advertisements and a blizzard of press releases produced by
other animal and habitat protection groups.
Supporting NAFTA are the World Wildlife Fund/
Conservation International, the National Audubon Society,
the National Wildlife Federation, the National Resources
Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Four of the six actively endorse hunting, and oppose the
global ban on ivory trading. They argue that regulated tro-
phy hunting and ivory sales can be used to finance habitat
protection in Africa. Former staff from many of them now
hold Clinton administration appointments. But two other
environmental heavy hitters with White House connections
were conspicuously missing from the podium, though not
aligned in opposition, either: the League of Conservation
Voters, once led by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and
the Wilderness Society, whose former president George
Frampton is now Assistant Secretary for National Parks and
Wildlife, while former board member Jim Baca now heads
the Bureau of Land Management.
The absences suggested uneasiness about NAFTA
in the branches of government most involved with enforcing
the Endangered Species Act. Currently up for renewal, the
ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act are enforced
in part by trade sanctions, which prohibit the import of
goods from nations whose practices harm endangered ani-
mals. Regulations imposed by their global counterpart, the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species,
are exempted from NAFTA review, but ESA and Marine
Mammal Protection Act enforcement are not.
A leading concern of NAFTA opponents is that
provisions intended to bar the use of artificially constructed
“environmental” regulations to protect domestic industries
could instead be used to undermine not only the ESA and
Marine Mammal Protection Act, but also their primary
enforcement mechanisms, including the Lacey Act, Driftnet
Fishery Conservation Act, International
Conservation Act, and the Pelly Amendment, as well as the
Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Slaughter Act, and the
Wild Bird Conservation Act as they apply to the import of
animals and animal products.
“Wildlife and natural resources are considered
goods under the agreement,” explains the American
Humane Association position paper on NAFTA. NAFTA’s
technical legal rules prohibit a country from restricting the
import or export of wildlife, natural resources, and other
products on the basis that they are produced in a way which
harms wildlife, natural resources, or the environment.”
Such restrictions are called “process standards.”
Despite the exemption for CITES, NAFTA is
widely seen as a preliminary to an anticipated push by vari-
ous nations including the U.S., Japan, and Norway to erase
much of the substance of both CITES and the International
Whaling Treaty under the General Agreement on Trade and
Tariffs. Negotiated under the auspices of the United
Nations, GATT is intended to accomplish throughout the
world what NAFTA is doing in the U.S., Canada, and
Mexico: creating an international common market, con-
ducive to the free exchange of goods and thereby encourag-
ing economic development.
Both NAFTA and GATT prevent participating
nations from imposing more stringent rules on trading part-
ners than on themselves, and/or attempting to regulate mat-
ters that are traditionally under other nations’ sovereignity.
“Although U.S. domestic law may prevent an
agency of the U.S. from acting upon a decision by a
NAFTA tribunal,” the AHA paper adds, “under NAFTA
rules the U.S. cannot prohibit our trading partners from
bringing a claim against one of our laws, nor can the U.S.
prevent a NAFTA tribunal from determining that the con-
tested law is a violation of NAFTA… Once such a determi-
nation is made, the U.S. will be required to either eliminate
the offending law or be subject to trade penalties so long as
the regulation is enforced…Of primary concern to AHA is
that the [NAFTA review] Commission may only review the
nonenforcement of existing environmental laws. Thus the
Commission could not resolve major environmental prob-
lems caused by the lack of environmental laws in NAFTA
countries. In addition, the North American Agreement on
Environmental Cooperation explicitly provides that the
Commission may not review or resolve disputes which arise
as a result of nonenforcement of resource management
laws…Thus today’s most controversial issues concerning
trade and the environment are left to be resolved through the
NAFTA or GATT dispute resolution procedures.”
The leading precedent for the negative view of
GATT and NAFTA is that in October 1991 a GATT review
panel ruled that the U.S. ban on the import of tuna caught
by netting “on dolphin” illegally regulates conduct in inter-
national waters. The GATT ruling did not lift the ban,
however, as lower courts and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals agreed that the tuna embargo still had to be
enforced as mandated by Congress, since U.S. law does not
permit any veto by outside authority. Mexico agreed to
withhold sanctions against U.S. imports pending negotiation
of a settlement. By June 15, 1992, the U.S., Mexico,
Venezuela, and Vanuatu had agreed by treaty to end netting
tuna “on dolphin.”
Opposing NAFTA (and in most cases GATT), in
addition to Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, and AHA,
are the Sierra Club, Friends of Animals, the Humane
Society of the U.S., the American SPCA, Greenpeace, the
Public Interest Research Group, Earth Island Institute, the
Animal Welfare Institute, the Farm Animal Reform
Movement, the Fund for Animals, and about 300 grass-
roots groups. Also in opposition is Defenders of Wildlife,
which joined the six groups supporting NAFTA in a May
pledge to endorse the agreement if sufficient environmental
protections were added to it. The supplementary agreement
reached in August did not satisfy Defenders to the extent
that it satisfied the others.
Observed Keith Schneider of The New York Times,
“The feud generally pits big national environmental groups
based in New York and Washington––which have shown a
willingness to compromise to increase their influence at the
highest levels of the government––against other organiza-
tions, some of which are just as large, that are focused on
grassroots efforts.”
But the division over NAFTA could as easily be
characterized as a plain old-fashioned difference between
economic philosophies. Favoring NAFTA are groups gen-
erally inclined to seek free-market solutions to environmen-
tal problems. The opponents, partly because they tend to
have much less economic clout, tend to favor governmental
solutions. And many have formed alliances over the years
with organized labor, which opposes NAFTA (and GATT)
as a threat to union jobs via foreign competition.
The leading animal protection argument for
NAFTA, World Wildlife Fund president Kathryn Fuller
told the press September 15, is that economic growth pro-
vides the wherewithal for nations to protect nature. Mexico,
for instance, has more biodiversity than almost any other
nation, but little money to spend on conservation.
Earth Island Institute accused Mexico of deliberate
noncompliance with agreements to protect endangered
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in a September 25 full-page ad in
The New York Times, citing this as evidence that NAFTA
could roll back environmental enforcement. The Earth
Island ad also pointed out that Mexican authorities have yet
to charge anyone in connection with the alleged kidnapping,
rape, and torture of two female biologists last February,
who were attacked by turtle egg poachers after the biologists
confiscated some of the eggs.
NAFTA supporters respond, however, that pover-
ty obliges many Mexicans to make a living any way they
can, encourages poorly paid Mexican authorities to take
bribes, and thereby makes demands for compliance with
endangered species protection unrealistic. While develop-
ment will bring its own toll on species and habitat, recent
major studies of progress in environmental protection by
economists Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University and
Gene Grossman and Alan Kreuger of Princeton show that a
rise in a nation’s standard of living is the most certain predic-
tor of a decrease in pollution. Such progress is achieved less
by fiat than by the combination of more efficient technolo-
gy, better education, and the sociopolitical empowerment
of a middle class.
The NAFTA Supplemental Agreement on
Environmental Cooperation reached in August is a general
outline. It commits the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to “con-
tinue to provide high levels of environmental protection,” to
“effectively enforce” environmental laws, to guarantee that
citizens have “access to national courts to petition govern-
ments to undertake enforcement actions and to seek redress
of harm,” and sets up an advisory commission on environ-
mental matters whose U.S. representative will be the head of
the Environmental Protection Agency.
Neither NAFTA itself nor the supplementary
agreement specifically mentions protecting animals from
cruelty, nor do they mention endangered species––or other
environmental issues, with the exception of pesticide conta-
mination of produce. However, according to the official
USDA summary, the section on “Sanitary and Phytosanitary
Measures” that imposes “disciplines on the development,
adoption and enforcement” of measures taken “for the pro-
tection of human, animal or plant life or health from risks
arising from animal or plant pests or diseases, food addi-
tives or contaminants,” also guarantees each country’s right
to take such measures.
The USDA is the enforcing body for the Animal
Welfare Act and Humane Slaughter Act. The official
USDA view of NAFTA is that, “The U.S. will maintain its
stringent standards regarding health, safety, and the envi-
ronment. We maintain the right to prohibit imports that do
not meet U.S. standards. NAFTA also allows states and
local governments to enact tough standards without restric-
tion, so long as these standards are scientifically defensi-
The U.S. and Canada adopted a forerunner to
NAFTA in 1988. It has not overturned any environmental
or animal protection legislation. In December 1992,
Canada successfully introduced mandatory veterinary
inspections to curb the import of sickly puppies from U.S.
puppy mills, despite protest from the pet industry that this
violated the free trade agreement. Even stronger restrictions
on puppy mill imports are now being drafted. In February
1993, the USDA used information gathered over the pre-
ceding 13 years by ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt
Clifton on pet theft and animal dealing in Quebec to “retali-
ate” by barring sales of Canadian dogs and cats to U.S. labo-
ratories, on grounds the origin of the animals cannot be cer-
tified in compliance with anti-pet theft amendments to the
Animal Welfare Act. Both the Canadian and USDA actions
realized longstanding ambitions of humane groups, and
according to USDA enforcement staff, neither action will
be undone in the name of trade.
––Merritt Clifton
Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.