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Keynote Address - NAFTA at 20

November 14, 2014

Oonagh Fitzgeral 

Centre for International Governance Innovation


John Weeks

Bennett Jones LLP


Andrew Shoyer

Sidley Austin LLP


Hugo Perezcano Diaz




Jean-Simon Schoenholz 

2016 JD/MA Candidate


This panel sought to look at NAFTA’s role 20 years after its creation as well as its potential influence in the future. A particular emphasis was put on its importance with regards to energy and the environment. The three speakers were themselves involved in negotiations (representing each of the three countries) and were able to present a contextual understanding of the political conditions which led to the creation of NAFTA as it is today. They were also able to discuss each country’s interests going forward and the future of this trilateral relationship.


The first question pertained to whether NAFTA was living up to its potential and how it could be strengthened. While from the economic point of view it appears to have reached its potential, politically it has become unpopular and governments have neglected to manage and revitalize this instrument. Furthermore, compliance with NATFA’s rules has not been full. Arguably, however, the environmental side agreement creating the CEC, has been a success insofar as it fulfills its fact-finding role. As the agreement has not been further developed in 20 years, there is a need to consider how to best update NAFTA to address current challenges. One such area which could be improved would be in dispute settlement.


Asked specifically about the side agreements, Mr. Perezcano Diaz explained that Mexico had been against the side agreements and that negotiators had sought to ensure they would never lead to dispute settlement or sanctions. This being said, the aim of developing a factual record should not be underestimated in our bias for hard law solutions. The labour side agreement has been described as atrophied while states have found the environmental side agreement inconvenient. These were, however, significant steps at the time. Looking ahead it is important to consider how these side agreements can be bolstered. 


Looking forward, panelists noted that recent Mexican energy reforms will have impacts on trilateral relations and future integration. Suggestions were made that moving beyond free trade towards a customs union or a monetary union would be a logical next step but that there lacks political will for these steps. Instead, north american states are looking to larger multilateral agreements such as the TPP.


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