A new Environmental Cooperation Agreement (ECA) has been announced to support the new free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States. The ECA provides an enhanced cooperative framework to ensure that trade liberalization does not come at the expense of environmental protection.

Environment Journal joined the public forum held by the Council of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) at its 27th annual session of the Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) via livestream on June 26, 2020.

The Council said it is anticipating the implementation of the strongest set of environmental provisions ever included in a free trade agreement so far and that “addressing environmental issues requires solutions that transcend our national borders.”

Richard Morgan, executive director of the CEC Secretariat
kicks off the 27th annual CEC Council session.

For the first time, the new free trade agreement contains Chapter 24, which covers a wide range of global environmental issues, including illegal wildlife trade and logging, sustainable forestry and fisheries management, protection of the marine environment and the ozone layer, and conservation of species at risk and biological diversity.

The Joint Public Advisory Committee forum
featured delegates from Canada, Mexico and the US.

Jean-Frédéric Morin, chair of the Canada Research Chair in International Political Economy and professor at the Political Science Department of Université Laval, provided the highlights of his extensive study on trade agreements made between 1947 and 2019. He and his research team analyzed 287 types of environmental provisions in 730 trade agreements.

Morin summarized four key takeaways:

  1. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) have been the most ground-breaking agreements.
  2. Environmental protection provisions can enhance environmental protection.
  3. Environmental provisions are not trade restrictive.
  4. The United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) modernizes NAFTA, but is not as ground-breaking.

However, he acknowledged the importance of certain novelties of USMCA, including new action to prevent and reduce marine litter and food waste and regulation against the trafficking of wildlife.

Statistical evidence suggests that environmental provisions in trade agreements are associated with reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and suspended particulate matter. However, Morin explained it remains unclear exactly which of these provisions have these effects and how they achieve these results, as case studies provided mixed evidence.

Jean-Frédéric Morin said the trade agreement with the highest number of unprecedented environmental provisions is NAFTA and its environmental side agreement, NAAEC.

Robert Moyer, director of submission on enforcement for the CEC, announced that all of the parties have completed the ratification process for the new environmental trade agreement – Environmental Cooperation Agreement (ECA) – that will enter into force on July 1, 2020. The ECA replaces the NAEEC.

“Unlike NAFTA, environmental obligations are now contained in the text of the trade agreement,” pointed out Moyer. He also added that the US Trade Representative agency asserts that these are the strongest environmental provisions ever included in a trade agreement.

Moyer pointed out the new features of the agreement, including increased protection of coastal and marine environments, controls on trafficking wildlife, and restored commitments to existing international obligations. He said the ECA also changes the structure of the CEC Secretariat, including gender balance in the criteria for hiring Secretariat staff and a more public reporting and enforcement strategy in which the Secretariat is no longer an independent reporting authority. There were also some changes announced for JPAC, including a decrease from 15 to nine members and further ensuring of diverse representation.

Overall, the ECA provides the following:

  • Strengthened environmental governance and enforcement
  • Increased support for low emission and resilient economies
  • Increased conservation and protection of biodiversity and habitats (coastal, marine, etc.)
  • Promotion of the sustainable use of natural resources (forestry, etc.)
  • Increased support of green tech growth

Robert Moyer, director of submission on enforcement  for the CEC,
announced that all of the parties have completed the ratification
process for the new environmental trade agreement.

Strategic priorities for CEC

The CEC has adopted a comprehensive plan for trilateral environmental cooperation as provided in the 2021-2025 CEC Strategic Plan, which establishes the CEC’s strategic priorities for the coming five years. This plan was developed as a result of ongoing consultations with a range of technical experts and the North American public.

The Council has identified six pillars for this new strategic plan that will implement the provisions of the new free trade agreement and its supporting ECA:

  1. Clear Air, Water and Land – Addressing matters of mutual interest with respect to air quality and protection of the ozone layer;
  2. Preventing and Reducing Pollution in the Marine Environment – Taking action to prevent and reduce marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, and addressing ship pollution;
  3. Circular Economy and Sustainable Materials Management – The use of flexible, voluntary mechanisms to protect the environment and natural resources, such as conservation and the sustainable use of those resources;
  4. Shared Ecosystems and Species – The conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and protection of ecosystems;
  5. Resilient Economies and Communities – Promoting environmental goods and services, improving environmental, economic and social performance, contributing to green growth and jobs, and encouraging sustainable development; and
  6. Effective Enforcement of Environmental Laws – Promoting public awareness of environmental laws and policies, and enforcement and compliance procedures.

The CEC said it’s also working on charting a course for a post-COVID-19 recovery with opportunities for sustainable and resilient growth.

To read the complete Environmental Cooperation Agreement, click here.

To read the CEC Secretariat report for July 2019 to June 2020, click here.

Featured image credit: CEC. All other images by EJ.

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