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Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Wed, 19 Nov 97 10:15:26 CST
From: Western Ancient Forest Campaign <wafcdc@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Fast Track’s Failure and the Environment in a Global Economy
Article: 22250

From: Steve Holmer <wafcdc@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Fast Track’s Failure and the Environment in a Global Economy

TO: Forest Activists
FROM: Jim Jontz
DATE: November 18, 1997

Fast Track’s Failure and the Environment in a Global Economy

By Steve Holmer, Campaign Coordinator, Western Ancient Forest Campaign, 18 November 1997

The defeat of President Clinton’s request for Fast Track authority last week may have been the most important environmental decision by the Congress in 1997. A great deal of the media coverage following the death of Fast Track has focused on the power of organized labor and mistakes by Clinton, but there is no question that environment was a major factor.

Members of Congress who have long records of support for free trade like Nancy Pelosi, Ben Cardin, and Nita Lowey decided to oppose Clinton’s Fast Track because they recognized that investment and trade agreements in a global economy inherently affect the environment, and the NAFTA model that this Fast Track was patterned after is not an approach that balances protections for investment with environmental safeguards.

Of course, even the environmental groups who supported Fast Track and NAFTA before opposed it this time (or in the case of EDF and NRDC, were silent). Frustration with four years of failure by the Clinton Administration to address the concerns of even the most conservative green groups over trade issues gave them little patience with hollow promises.

Environment was an integral part of the debate over Fast Track. An additional factor important to us as forest activists is that for the first time resource issues were in the spotlight. When the vote was about Mexico and NAFTA, border pollution was the issue. With Chile, other Latin American, and Pacific Rim nations involved, impacts of free trade on forests, fisheries, energy, and water are more important. Abuses by multinationals seeking to externalize environmental costs by extracting resources in nations where environmental controls (and labor costs) are minimal is something people understand.

Environmentalists who fought Fast Track should be congratulated, but as is often the case, we don’t have long to rest. Here are some concerns to focus on:

1) Chilean Fast Track

It is very possible that President Clinton could come back to Congress next spring and ask for a narrower Fast Track, just to negotiate NAFTA expansion to Chile. Clinton is planning a trip to Santiago next April for the Council of the Americas; it would be a face saving measure for him to arrive with even narrow fast track authority. And some Members of Congress might be willing to vote to give him such narrow authority, unless they are convinced of the specific problems with NAFTA expansion to Chile.

Of course, from a forest standpoint, Chile is a major concern as home of some of the most important remaining temperate forests. A report recently released by Defensores del Bosque Chileno (Defenders of the Chilean Forests) and available from WAFC documents the problems for Chile’s forests with NAFTA expansion. A great deal of educational work must be done to help media, public and legislators see the connections.

2) The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)

An issue which lurks even without Fast Track is the prospect of a global investment protection agreement, the MAI. Negotiations on this agreement among the wealthiest nations has been going on for a couple years; the issue is getting some play in Canada now, but Americans are largely unaware that the MAI is even on the table.

The MAI would be modeled after the investment protection provisions of NAFTA, with the ability of corporations to directly challenge the laws of nations which they find to be barriers to trade. Environmental groups see the provisions of the MAI so broad that the agreement could accomplish what Wise Use groups in the US have not: virtual takings legislation. Much more education needs to occur about the MAI and its environmental implications.

3) A positive vision

The toughest follow up work that environmentalists may face in the aftermath of Fast Track’s defeat is articulating a positive vision of how we see trade and the environment. There are several basic concepts from which to start: trade sanctions should be available for failure to enforce environmental laws, nations should be free to utilize process standards to promote responsible environmental behavior by conditioning access to their markets, there should be mechanisms for upward harmonization of global standards.

But agreeing on the principles is only part of the task. How do we engage in formulating new trade policy at the national and community levels? How do we educate the public while multinationals are engaging in massive advertising campaigns to greenwash their behavior?

The defeat of Fast Track is important for the environment, but it will be even more important if it can be followed by campaigns to address various unfinished items from the Fast Track debate.