Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 1995

Publication Citation

3 Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 65 (1995)


The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is often claimed to be a "promising beginning" for the reconciliation of trade and environment. Professor Porras, however, suggests that the form that "reconciliation" takes in NAFTA is extremely problematic. Harmonization of standards to facilitate the free flow of trade is a familiar trade goal. NAFTA's provisions regarding environmental standards, however, are not a straightforward requirement to harmonize standards. Rather, NAFTA recognizes state autonomy in standard setting, on the one hand, while requiring a form of upward harmonization, on the other. According to Professor Porras, the result of such an arrangement is the perpetuation of economic and political inequality among states. States with low environmental standards are not given the opportunity to set their environmental standards in accordance with their own values, capacities, and priorities, but must instead divert resources to achieve the standards that are deemed appropriate by states with higher environmental standards. Professor Porras argues that the dual choice of "autonomy" and "upward harmonization" in NAFTA reflects the desire of environmentalists in high-standard states to safeguard both their environmental standards and their standards of living. States with lower standards are made to raise their standards so that their comparatively lower standards do not enable them to gain a competitive advantage to the detriment of the high standard states' economies. Professor Porras suggests that in choosing "upward harmonization," environmentalists in high-standard states are responding to the perceived link between environmental protection and the nation's economic health. In selecting a mechanism which tends to perpetuate existing economic inequalities between states, however, NAFTA fails to give equal attention to the demands of "sustainable development" in poorer countries.