Environmental groups air doubts about North American trade deal

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Montreal (AFP)

Campaign groups from Greenpeace to the Sierra Club on Monday slammed the new US-Mexican-Canadian trade deal for its weak provisions on environmental issues.

President Donald Trump -- who had repeatedly pledged to overhaul what he called an unfair North American Free Trade Agreement -- said the retooling would turn North America back into a "manufacturing powerhouse" and fuel US economic growth.

At a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland welcomed the inclusion of "a new enforceable environment chapter that upholds air quality and fights marine pollution.

"It is much stronger than previously," Freeland said.

Yet the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA -- covering almost $1.2 trillion in trade -- does not go far enough to protect the population and the global environment, critics argue.

For the social action minded Council of Canadians, it is no surprise that "climate change" was not mentioned within President Trump's new agreement, given the US president's skepticism surrounding the issue.

That leaves intact what amount to NAFTA's bad rule book and the growth of the oil industry, added Charlie Cray, from the NGO Greenpeace, in a statement to AFP.

Not only does the new agreement not mention climate change, but it also extends the group's contribution to the climate crisis, the Sierra Club said in a statement.

The United States, under Trump, withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to contain the average increase in global temperature at two degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial era.

But even for critics there appear to be some potentially positive steps.

The old NAFTA -- which tied together the US, Canadian and Mexican markets since 1994 -- did not have any separate environmental section.

The new agreement recognizes the significance of ocean plastic pollution and expectation that a multilateral environmental agreement could be ironed out to end single-use plastic, one of the main forms of ocean pollution.