Trade Agreements: An Opportunity to Address Environmental Concerns?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Regional or bilateral trade promotion agreements, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), sometimes include environmental obligations for signatories. But only a few of these allow for environmental submissions—a process where persons or legal entities can raise issues with the enforcement record of any of the signatory nations. In this month’s issue of ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter, Dino Delgado Gutiérrez, former Executive Director of the Secretariat for Submissions on Environmental Enforcement Matters of the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, examines the history of submission mechanisms for numerous trade agreements in Latin America, and highlights trends, lessons learned, and recommendations for improving these processes.

Shipping port

In the two decades since the first environmental submission under NAFTA, 156 submissions have been filed. Gutiérrez’s article analyzes agreements between the United States and Mexico, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Panama, and Colombia. The vast majority of submissions under these agreements have concerned pollution, wildlife protection, authorization and operation regarding building and construction, and hazardous waste.

Gutiérrez draws on case examples from across the region, as well as his own experience, and highlights the importance of cultivating relationships between the secretariats of these agreements and supporting their functional autonomy. While submission mechanisms have endured criticism, Gutiérrez argues for their value as opportunities for independent bodies to evaluate the effectiveness of countries’ domestic environmental enforcement. To further these goals, efforts should be made to educate civil society about submission processes, and to establish clear deadlines for timely submission procedures.

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