International trade tribunals seen trumping state laws

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A Canadian company wants to open a new plant in Claremont, New Hampshire, to bottle fresh water from a source in Stockbridge, Vermont.

But if Vermont wants to limit how much water the company takes, it may run afoul of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

States around the country are growing increasingly worried about the threats posed to their laws and regulations by the secret tribunals that resolve disputes in international trade. Experts say everything from environmental rules to the licensing of nurses and other professionals could be affected.

Vermont is one of seven states to establish committees to study the possible impacts of international trade on their laws.

Assistant Vermont Attorney General Elliot Burg said NAFTA and other trade agreements have opened up a path for international companies that want to circumvent state laws they don’t like.

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