WHILE Congress prepares to debate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the US environmental community remains divided in its support for it. As a field-based organization working in Mexico and Canada, Conservation International believes those groups opposing NAFTA for environmental reasons are being shortsighted: NAFTA will be good for both the economies and environments of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Unfortunately, much of the discussion over NAFTA has centered around the effectiveness and enforcement of Mexican environmental laws. In our experience, this should not be used as an excuse to oppose NAFTA - Mexico clearly has the political will to make environmental protection a priority.
Today Mexico has a government that understands the importance of protecting its environment and preventing the depletion of its natural resources. This administration has done more than any other to promote public awareness of environmental issues, develop biodiversity conservation programs, and enact tough environmental laws. The result has been an unprecedented amount of collaboration between the government and nongovernmental sectors and, even more important, several significant environmental success stories.
In 1991, for example, Conservation International and the Mexican government negotiated Mexico's first debt-for-nature swap. The local currency released under this $4 million agreement is now being used to finance biodiversity conservation programs to help conserve tropical forests near the Guatemalan border and the Sea of Cortes marine ecosystem. Soon after, the government created new biosphere reserves to better protect these two areas.