June 28, 2004

Ten-year review illustrates benefits of CEC's work to NAAEC parties

Activities carried out under the North American Agreement on Environmental Co-operation (NAAEC) have brought clear environmental benefits to Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Over the course of its first decade, says an independent report, the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC) - created pursuant to the NAAEC - has been an extraordinarily active organization, establishing a solid track record of successful environmental co-operation in areas such as the sound management of chemicals, conservation of biodiversity, enforcement of environmental regulations, and green trade.

The review, titled Ten Years of North American Environmental Co-operation, was written by a six-member committee of international experts appointed by the three governments. The Ten-Year Review and Assessment Committee (TRAC) was charged with examining the implementation of the NAAEC, the environmental side agreement to NAFTA, signed by the three countries in 1993. It was the first environmental accord to be established parallel to an international trade agreement.

The review committee concludes that over the last decade the CEC has:

*built substantial environmental capacities, largely in Mexico but also in Canada and the U.S.;

*strengthened capacities of government agencies, business, communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to better manage environmental issues in the three countries;

*increased understanding of the complex interactions between trade and the environment, and provided useful information on the North American environment to a broad range of audiences; and

*engaged citizens in encouraging the three North American governments to be more transparent and accountable for enforcement of their environmental laws.

The TRAC report calls attention to a number of issues which it says should be addressed in order to ensure that the CEC realizes its full potential to act on the North American environmental agenda. One of its leading recommendations calls for a renewed commitment by the three countries' environment ministers to the CEC as the premier body for trilateral environmental co-operation and for assessing the links between environment and trade.

Other recommendations address the governance of the CEC: the countries need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the CEC's three main bodies, i.e. its ministerial Council, the Secretariat and the Joint Public Advisory Committee, as they relate to the co-operative agenda and the citizens' submission process. The Council, says the report, should clearly establish the CEC's role as catalyst and analyst and should emphasize the CEC's presence as (a) a convenor of experts and researchers to foster dialogue; (b) a "safe harbour" forum to discuss issues; and (c) a developer of tools and promoter of best practices. As part of its effort to advance understanding of trade-environment links, the TRAC says the CEC should set up a Web-based North American Clearinghouse on Trade and Environment Linkages.

The report also cites the need for more effective outreach to key stakeholders and the mobilization of the CEC's diverse constituency throughout the three nations. It says the CEC must respond to calls from business, academics and indigenous peoples to engage them more actively in its activities, while still maintaining the active engagement of environmental NGOs.

Additionally, the TRAC calls for a sharper programming focus reflecting the CEC's priorities, its fnancial resources and increased demands for demonstrated results. The Council of Ministers, it says, should develop a five-year Strategic Agenda for North American Environmental Co-operation, which would serve as the basis for the preparation of a three-year operational plan. These should be ready for endorsement by the Council in December 2004, with the operational plan to be used to guide the development of annual work plans and reporting to Council.

Pierre Marc Johnson, a former premier of Quebec and chairman of the committee, called upon the three environment ministers to "strengthen and renew their governments' commitments and contributions to the CEC as their institution for trilateral environmental co-operation and for assessing the linkages between NAFTA and the environment."

Ten Years of North American Environmental Co-operation may be viewed on the CEC Web site, www.cec.org/trac. More information is also available from Spencer Tripp, 514/350-4331.

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