The Neglected Lessons of the NAFTA Environmental Regime

34 Pages Posted: 11 May 2010

See all articles by John H. Knox

John H. Knox

Wake Forest University - School of Law

Date Written: May 10, 2010


NAFTA and its side agreements created an environmental regime within the context of a trade agreement. While the regime has failed to resolve environmental objections to increased economic integration, its failure in that respect should not obscure its relative success as a path-breaking attempt to promote sustainable development throughout the continent, particularly in Mexico. Although even in this light its achievements may appear minor, its provisions on technical cooperation, financial assistance, public participation, and independent monitoring provide a basis upon which later efforts to promote sustainable development could build.

Unfortunately, the United States has ignored the lessons of the NAFTA environmental regime. The United States has required its trading partners to accept environmental provisions as a condition to entering into each of the twelve free trade agreements it has negotiated since NAFTA, but instead of improving on the original template, the post-NAFTA agreements do just the opposite. They copy elements from the NAFTA regime that have proven ineffective and they fail to include, much less strengthen, more promising provisions. As a result, the later agreements are weaker than the NAFTA environmental regime, and they are far weaker than they could have been had its lessons been taken into account.

This article is part of a symposium issue on labor and environmental protections in U.S. free trade agreements.

Keywords: NAFTA, Commission for Environmental Cooperation, U.S. free trade agreements, trade and environment

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Knox, John H., The Neglected Lessons of the NAFTA Environmental Regime (May 10, 2010). Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 2, 2010, Wake Forest Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 1604141, Available at SSRN:

John H. Knox (Contact Author)

Wake Forest University - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States

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