Cafta Fails The Test On Environment

The Central American Free Trade Agreement is an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.  It was signed in May, 2004 and soon will be up for a vote in Congress.

CAFTA will have a negative impact on the environment of Central America and, indirectly, on us as well.  Central America includes only one percent of the world’s land area but has 8% of all the planet’s biodiversity.  Three out of four migratory bird routes in the Western Hemisphere pass through CAFTA countries.  Even US Trade negotiators admitted that CAFTA could contribute to the loss of migratory bird habitat through investments in the agricultural sector.

NAFTA restructured the agricultural sector of Mexico, and the subsequent dumping of subsidized corn from the US drove 1.5 million small farmers off their land.  These people either migrated to the US or were forced to clear trees for fuel.  Since the implementation of NAFTA the rate of deforestation in Mexico has almost doubled.

CAFTA provides for fines if countries do not enforce their laws, but only after a vague, cumbersome, process.  Some CAFTA countries essentially have no laws to enforce anyway, nor the resources to do so.  The Bush administration, in February, announced an “Environmental Cooperation Agreement” in a transparent attempt to cool the opposition.  The Clinton Administration did exactly the same thing with “environmental side accords” to help pass NAFTA.  One need only assess the poor record of NAFTA to understand that this new accord is also just window dressing.

In any event, CAFTA includes “investor rights” rules, like NAFTA’s infamous Chapter 11, which allow corporations to sue countries for cash damages for any perceived loss of profits from any law or measure that interferes with their operations.  Since Central American countries are small and poor, it’s unlikely that US laws will be threatened by CAFTA.  Rather US corporations will move into Central America to extract minerals, cut forests and develop the pristine coastlines in the region.

Please Ask Your Congressional Reps To Vote No On Cafta

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is expected to come up for a vote as soon as the Republican leadership in Congress thinks they have the votes.  So it’s important for you to contact your congressional representatives now and ask them to oppose CAFTA.  A sample letter is provided below.  To read the Club’s CAFTA Fact Sheets, log on to the national Sierra Club website at  Email:




Washington, D. C. 20515

Subject: Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)

I am opposed to the U.S.- Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).  CAFTA is based on the failed NAFTA model and is a step in the wrong direction. CAFTA’s rules would undermine U.S. and Central American environmental standards by allowing foreign investors to challenge environmental and public health laws before international tribunals, bypassing domestic courts.  For developing Central American countries, the simple threat of costly investor challenges could freeze adoption of environmental standards.

Central America faces daunting environmental challenges that jeopardize the region’s capacity for sustainable development.  CAFTA’s rules do not ensure that environmental protection in Central America will be improved or even maintained in a meaningful way.  These flaws are particularly critical for a region with such a bright future for eco-tourism.  Many Americans have enjoyed the phenomenal biodiversity and beauty of the region’s parks, preserves and coast line.

Trade agreements should support, not undermine environmental protection, human rights and labor standards.  Regrettably CAFTA, and the recently announced “Environmental Cooperation Agreement,” fail this test.  I urge you to oppose this agreement when it comes to a vote.


Your Name

Craig Volland, Trade Chair

Courtesy of you

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