On Jan. 29, President Trump signed into law the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, a free trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada that builds upon the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994. The deal is not yet approved by all three countries. It has to go through Canada’s parliament, where it will likely face little resistance. While the deal includes some important labor initiatives, its changes fail to address the looming issue of climate change.
Though there are a number of issues with the agreement, the most concerning relate to its disregard for environmental regulation procedures. The small number of provisions related to their enforcement feasibly cannot be carried out and have historically been ignored in previous agreements. This loophole was exploited even before the USMCA became law, as the Environmental Protection Agency decided to backtrack Obama-era limits on mercury emissions for coal plants in 2018 just after the text for the deal was released.
In addition, the USMCA fails to seriously challenge the profit-making authority of oil and gas companies. It still allows the industry to challenge governments on laws that can possibly hinder revenue. Though the new deal blocks other industries from making these legal challenges, those dealing with fossil fuels are the only ones still allowed to engage in this settlement process. The deal purposely leaves open the lucrative, alternative legal path for the fossil fuel industry that sidesteps domestic procedures in favor of international ones.
In an age when international climate deals like the Paris Climate Accord are insignificant in practice, trade deals are the only internationally binding agreements that can play an effective role in countering the climate crisis. Breaking parts of trade deals can mean real economic consequences. As a result, governments are more inclined to abide by the rules of these deals. The USMCA is a missed opportunity for North American governments to take a stand on climate change. Without a trade deal that puts the climate first, there is no chance for further international cooperation on the issue in the future.
President Trump and the Republican Party’s support for this deal is unsurprising, considering their apathy towards climate change. However, the fact that the Democratic Party supported the deal is surprising and problematic. Publicly, the party espouses ideas like building a clean energy economy and supporting environmental justice. In reality, though, it’s clear that the climate issue is not the party’s top priority. If taking action conflicts with the profits of their oil and gas donors, the Democrats would like nothing to do with the matter.
Democratic figures who opposed the USMCA such as Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) must continue to oppose the deal. The sunset clause included in the deal forces all three countries to come back to the table in six years and review the deal. If all parties agree with the deal then, it will continue for another decade — the full 16 years. This clause provides a unique opportunity for lawmakers to continue to push against the USMCA and limit its long-term effects. This is the only avenue through which the trilateral trade agreement can be a beneficial force in the climate issue.
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