St. Mary's Law Journal


David W. Eaton


Over the past decade, the transboundary movement of hazardous waste has become an important issue. Because of its geographic proximity to the United States and its desire to attract foreign investment, Mexico has become one of the United States-owned maquiladoras’ favorite dumping grounds. The recent North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may only exacerbate matters. Because the health and environmental risks associated with the inappropriate disposal of hazardous waste knows no boundaries, it is important NAFTA signatories jointly address waste issues. While NAFTA has had a positive impact on environmental protection in the United States and Mexico, the NAFTA debate helped reawaken the environmental ethic in both countries. NAFTA will increase industrial expansion in Mexico, and as the Mexican industrial base expands, so will the generation of hazardous waste. The strict environmental regulation of hazardous waste in the United States increases the cost of properly disposing such waste and creates incentives to export and illegally dump along the path of least resistance to Mexico. This exporting and dumping are most vividly illustrated by evidence of United States-owned maquiladoras as they do not repatriate much of the waste they generate. Nonetheless, due to Mexico’s lack of treatment, storage and disposal infrastructure, lack of waste-minimization technology, and scarcity of financial resources to improve them, the United States-Mexico border region is at the cusp of an environmental disaster. To alleviate some of the problems associated with the transboundary movement of hazardous waste, the international community created the Basel Convention. Because hazardous waste issues are increasingly important, and because it does not appear the United States will ratify the Basel Convention anytime soon, it is crucial for both countries to jointly readdress the current waste relationship established in annex III of the La Paz Agreement to reflect changes spurred by NAFTA.


St. Mary's University School of Law