WITH THE passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the US House of Representatives and Senate, US President Bill Clinton has scored a major victory. However, to ensure approval of the agreement, which will gradually eliminate almost all trade and investment restrictions between the US, Canada and Mexico over a period of 15 years, Clinton agreed to let Florida farmers use methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting pesticide, at least until 2000. He also promised to ensure federal finance for research into alternatives to the chemical and to support legislation that would weaken safety and data requirements for pesticides used on fruit and most vegetable crops.
Though the Canadian parliament has approved NAFTA, the country's new Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, has delayed final approval in order to renegotiate subsidies, anti-dumping codes and protection of energy resources. Passage of the pact is not expected to be a problem in Mexico, where President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's party controls 61 of 64 seats in the Senate.
Side agreements concluded in August require the enforcement of strict environmental laws in NAFTA. The three countries are liable to fines -- and the US and Mexico sanctions -- if there are repeated instances of not enforcing these laws. Besides, a US-Mexico Border Environmental Commission will be established to clean up pollution along their border and $8 billion will be provided to this end through the North American Development Bank.
The three countries are liable for penalties if laws concerning child labour, minimum wages, workers health and safety are not enforced. The US is also to spend about $90 million in the first 18 months to retrain workers who lose their jobs because of the treaty.
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