Commission for Environmental Cooperation

Commission for Environmental Cooperation

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) was established by Canada, Mexico, and the United States to implement the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), the environmental side accord to the North American Free Trade Agreement. The CEC supports cooperation among the NAFTA partners to address environmental issues of continental concern, including the environmental challenges and opportunities presented by continent-wide free trade.



The Commission for Environmental Cooperation was created in 1994 by Canada, Mexico and the United States, under the NAAEC. The NAAEC was implemented in parallel to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and complements the environmental provisions of NAFTA. It signifies a commitment that liberalization of trade and economic growth in North America would be accompanied by collaboration and continuous improvement in the environmental protection provided by each of the three signatory countries. In part, the NAAEC was driven by U.S. President Bill Clinton's need to mitigate public concern about the impact of trade liberalization on the environment.

North American Environmental Atlas

The CEC is responsible for coordinating the North American Environmental Atlas, which aims to map North America’s shared environment in order to depict environmental issues from a continental perspective.

Ecozones and ecoregions

Part of the commission's work included the creation of a system of ecozones and ecoregions covering the continent. This system is distinct from that used by the World Wildlife Fund. Although different names are used, the Canadian ecozone system, which is used by Environment Canada, has the same boundaries and parameters as those used by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. The US term “Level 1 ecoregion” is equivalent to the term "ecozone" in Canada.

Environmental assessment of NAFTA

The CEC was designed in part to investigate the environmental impact of NAFTA, which was the first regional trade agreement between a developing country and two developed countries. A notable concern was that North American industry would be drawn to jurisdictions with lax environmental laws or weak enforcement, leading to a “race to the bottom” in standards or enforcement. The CEC’s mandate includes an ongoing after-the-fact environmental assessment of NAFTA. In support of this objective, the CEC has held four symposia concerning the environmental impacts of NAFTA, and has commissioned 47 papers on this subject. In keeping with the CEC’s overall strategy of transparency and public involvement, the CEC commissioned these papers from leading independent experts [1].

The framework for the assessment

The CEC created a comprehensive analytical framework for conducting environmental analysis of NAFTA. This was one of the first ex post facto frameworks for the environmental assessment of trade liberalization. It was designed to identify and empirically document environmental quality changes and policy trends linked to trade liberalization. The CEC aimed to produce a focused and systematic body of evidence concerning initial hypotheses about the environmental effects of NAFTA. For instance, it aimed to test hypotheses such as: “NAFTA will create race to the bottom in environmental regulation among the three countries” or “NAFTA will pressure governments to increase their environmental protection mechanisms [2].

The result of the assessment

Overall, many of the direst hypotheses about the environmental impact of NAFTA were not confirmed. Date and research collected with the support of the CEC indicated that many of the positive and negative expectations that were discussed during NAFTA negotiations did not materialize[3]. The CEC concluded that NAFTA did in fact not present a systemic threat to the North American environment, as was originally feared. However, NAFTA-related environmental threats occurred in specific areas where government environmental policy, infrastructure, or mechanisms were inadequately prepared for the increasing scale of production that resulted from trade liberalization. In some cases, the CEC found that government policy was neglected in the wake of trade liberalization. In other cases, NAFTA’s measures threatened to discourage more vigorous environmental policy, such as in the case of Chapter 11 investment protection, along with measures against non-tariff trade barriers [4]. CEC studies found that the most serious overall increases in pollution due to NAFTA were found in the base metals sector, the Mexican petroleum sector, and the transportation equipment sector in the United States and Mexico, but not in Canada [5].


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