In 1986, Mexico began opening its borders with its entry into
GATT – the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. (GATT
was an informal, interim structure for guiding international
trade that has been replaced by the World Trade Organization.)
As a participant in the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA) starting in 1994, Mexico was promised all the development
benefits that further free trade transformations could offer.
trade binds: Agreements with the US have
benefited only a very small part of the Mexican
farm population the rest are left fighting a losing
battle with subsidized corn.
As it hosts the WTO negotiations in 2003, Mexico is experiencing
the hardships of free trade. Among the hardest-hit sector
has been agriculture.
• Corn imports have nearly tripled since NAFTA, and
the price has dropped 64 percent since 1985.
• Genetically modified corn imports have contaminated
local varieties, considered the global center of genetic diversity
• Soybeans, wheat, poultry and beef imports have risen
more than 500 percent.
• The Mexican countryside has lost about 1.7 million
jobs since NAFTA, forcing many to seek work across the border
in the U.S.
• Owners on the 8 percent of Mexican land devoted to
agro-export have benefited from free trade policies, while
the 3 million producers of basic grains and oilseeds on 70
percent of Mexican farmland have been devastated by low-cost
At the same time, many industrial facilities lured by NAFTA
are already leaving Mexico for other developing countries,
particularly China. The U.S. is negotiating bilateral agreements
with neighboring countries, as well as the Free Trade Area
of the Americas (FTAA), which will negate any special relations
that Mexico had with the U.S. under NAFTA.
Trade vs. National Development
The debate in developing countries is not, at root,
a debate between free trade and protectionism. It
is a debate between the imposition of free trade
rules at the cost of national development and well-being.
In the complex and difficult context of a globalization
that shows clear tendencies toward increasing
inequity, and concentration and polarization of
wealth, developing nations need to respond with
policies that assure each citizen a basic standard
The WTO Agreement on Agriculture, like NAFTA,
binds national policymaking in a straitjacket
just when developing countries must respond to
new and dangerous challenges. At the same time,
it exacerbates threats to food sovereignty, and
eliminates important strategies for survival in
the countryside that not only guarantee livelihoods
but also support cultural, agricultural, and biological
--Laura Carlson, Interhemispheric Resource Center
When NAFTA came into full effect earlier this year, farmers blocked roads and
herded farm animals into government offices to protest free
trade. Millions of farmers have been put out of business,
particularly those producing traditional Mexican crops of
corn and beans.
Recently, Mexico’s President Fox signed an accord with
farm leaders pledging to keep tariff protection for several
grain crops — an acknowledgement of the damaging effect
free trade has had on Mexico's farm economy. Even this accord
was very contentious and opposed by several farm groups for
not doing enough to protect Mexico's farmers.
Without new guidelines that balance trade access with profound
social and environmental impacts, Mexico’s small farmers
will be the collective sacrificial lamb for the nation’s
costly free-trade participation.