Mexico is the country that has been accused the most within the Free Trade Agreement between the countries of North America (TMEC), for doing nothing to prevent damage to the environment. Since the Commission for Environmental Cooperation is governed by the free trade agreement signed in 2018 between the United States, Mexico and Canada, nine citizen petitions have been submitted for the agency to investigate cases where the environmental laws of the countries are being violated. Seven of those complaints are against Mexico.
Although the commission as such is not empowered to sanction any of the parties, the factual records that make up the group of independent experts on cases of environmental damage as controversial as the construction of the Mayan Train or the extinction of the vaquita marina, can be used by the United States and Canada to request corrective measures from Mexico or even call it for consultations for not complying with environmental obligations, contemplated in the TMEC. The same route that the energy dispute between the three partners is following due to Mexico’s protectionist policy.
The commission and the petition mechanism are not new, they were created within the environmental parallel agreement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the predecessor of the T-MEC, on January 1, 1994. However, with the signature of the TMEC, the mechanism completely became governed by it. The petition system allows any person or organization in North America to raise issues in which they believe that one of the countries is failing to apply their environmental laws. So far, nine complaints have been filed, of which only two are in relation to the United States and Canada.
In this sense, of the nine petitions presented under the TMEC, three have already been rejected by the commission, two against Mexico and one against Canada. Therefore, there are six active ones left: all against Mexico, except one, which is in relation to the United States.
Among the petitions to investigate issues in Mexico, the ones closest to becoming factual records are on the protection of the loggerhead sea turtle and the extinction of the vaquita. There is also a petition regarding the environmental damage caused by the construction of the Mayan Train, which is currently being analyzed by the secretariat of the commission to decide whether or not to recommend the creation of a factual record. There is another complaint about a residential development in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, which puts forest resources and birds in the area at risk; and the most recent, which is only in the first stage and was presented just on February 3, on avocado production in Michoacán and the deforestation it causes in the region.
Solano acknowledges that Mexico has historically been the subject of more petitions. “The United States and Canada have mechanisms for access to environmental justice that are quite effective, quite expeditious,” he explains. In addition, he points out that since the commission is an integral part of the trade agreement with Canada and the United States, more importance has been given to the petition mechanism because now it is more linked to trade issues.
Despite the lack of powers to sanction, Solano indicates that the scope of the publication of a factual file under the TMEC remains to be seen, which until now has not been done. However, he recalls other cases, presented in previous years, that have served to achieve changes in environmental matters. Like that of a lime kiln, a quarry to extract limestone, in the Sumidero Canyon, in the state of Chiapas, which was closed by the federal government after the citizens brought the factual file of the case before the National Human Rights Commission. . “We do not tell anyone to close, close, we do not have that mandate. But the fact that we present this information in an accessible way allows a petitioner to present this to other instances or other forums”, affirms the legal director of the commission.
In the case of the vaquita, it was not necessary for the commission to publish the factual record to draw the attention of the United States to what is happening in Mexico in the face of the extinction of the mammal in the Upper Gulf of California. In 2021, four US organizations submitted a petition to the commission on the situation and before the mechanism recommended doing the investigation, the US government announced that it would call Mexico for consultations under the USMCA over the neglect of the vaquita porpoise.
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