Thank you, NAFTA … !

Yes, you read that right.

While it’s old hat, if not a broken record, to deride NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement (remember Ross Perot and the “giant sucking sound?”) much good continues to emerge from the extraordinary cooperation between the three signatory countries.

In addition to burgeoning trade and cross-border investment that has resulted from the agreement’s full implementation, there’s exciting news of increasing collaboration and standardization of environmental regulations.

A number of new initiatives agreed upon by the parties will likely reduce gasoline consumption and air pollution, particularly along borders and coasts in the NAFTA region, according to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, which looks after and advocates for environmental issues and improvements within the region.

Indeed, the existence of cross-border organizations that arise as part and parcel, or as a result of trade negotiations, are an often overlooked benefit of trade and investment dialogue. When nations and regions have structures in place to address issues, propose solutions, fund studies, implement pilot projects and so on, good things can happen.

Now, I don’t expect many folks to wake up tomorrow and say, “You know, I really misjudged NAFTA. It’s a good thing after all,” never mind the abundant evidence of economic growth, competitiveness and supply chain integration that have contributed to a resurgence in N. American manufacturing.

But it would be nice if more people considered trade agreements in the fuller context of multilateral issues, even beyond trade. Harmonization of standards – which begins with dialogue – is a critical step on the path towards a business and investment environment that respects not only economic concerns, but important social objectives, as well.