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The Broader Context

The commitment of much of the western hemisphere to free trade has meant that free trade regimes have come to play a large role in determining "acceptable" national policies regarding the environment. Interestingly enough, the objectives of free trade and the environment are not as far apart as they seem.

Just as free trade regimes seek a secure and predictable context for international commerce, we seek a secure and predictable context for environmental protection. To this end, we feel that increasing transparency, the ability of the public to voice concerns, and the balance of expertise available to dispute resolution panels under the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will help ensure that the environment receives the treatment it requires.

However, improving the process of dispute resolution is a very necessary, but not sufficient condition for gaining increased recognition of environmental goals under the FTAA. The other half of the puzzle is the text of the agreement itself. The bottom line is that the dispute panelists must interpret the text in order to arrive at their decisions. By altering the language of these regimes, you alter their relationships with trade related issues. The environment would best be protected with an unambiguous text, in addition to a modified dispute resolution mechanism. This is one of the avenues where future research is merited.

Future Research

First, is the text itself. Trade agreements have a tradition of vague language. A critical analysis of where and how references to the environment could be made more concrete would be useful in creating consistent environmental protection within free trade regimes. Additionally, trade regimes are not consistent in their use of the "Precautionary Principle". This directly sets up conflict with many environmental policies because of the inconclusive nature of current environmental research and science. Clear language would go a long way to avoid unnecessary and costly litigation when environmental regulations are challenged.

Second, environmental politics is creating more and more conflict in the international arena. To date, the environment has been off the agenda for the FTAA, partly due to developing countries who are wary of developed world environmental standards. Study into the ways in which environmental standards can be made acceptable to all members would be invaluable.

Finally, it is imperative to establish a discourse between the spheres of environment and trade. What is needed is a new single concept to encompass both of these ideals. This is what the term sustainable development conceptually provides, but it is not accepted or understood on a wide enough scale to be meaningful. Very specific descriptions of how sustainable development can be applied to existing and emerging institutions must be devised in order to address the conflict between environment and trade.