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An Environmental Justice Critique of Comparative Advantage: Indigenous Peoples, Trade Policy, and the Mexican Neoliberal Economic Reforms

University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 32, p. 723, 2011

Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 11-07

82 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2008 Last revised: 8 Aug 2013

Carmen G. Gonzalez

Seattle University School of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2011

Abstract

The free market reforms adopted by Mexico in the wake of the debt crisis of the 1980s and in connection with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have jeopardized the physical and cultural survival of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, increased migration to the United States, threatened biological diversity in Mexico, and imposed additional stress on the environment in the United States. Despite these negative impacts, NAFTA continues to serve as a template for trade agreements in the Americas. Unless this template is fundamentally restructured, future trade agreements may replicate throughout the Western hemisphere many of the economic, ecological and social dislocations experienced under NAFTA.

Using Mexico as a case study, the article examines the impact of trade liberalization on indigenous peoples and on the environment. Critiquing Mexico's neoliberal economic reforms through the framework of environmental justice, the article highlights some of the theoretical and practical limitations of the theory of comparative advantage, which serves as the justification for the free market economic policies promoted by international trade and financial institutions. The article urges policy-makers to integrate trade, human rights, and environmental policy instead of criminalizing immigrants or militarizing the U.S.-Mexican border. The article concludes by using the paradigm of environmental justice to outline the elements of a more equitable and sustainable approach to international trade law and policy that supports the livelihoods of indigenous and rural communities and protects the planet's finite natural resources.

Keywords: immigration, globalization, World Trade Organization, North American Free Trade Agreement, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, agriculture, environment, biodiversity, environmental justice, trade policy, law and development, neoliberalism

JEL Classification: F14, F15, F22, F34, N56, N76, O13, O15, O19, Q17, Q18, R14

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Carmen G., An Environmental Justice Critique of Comparative Advantage: Indigenous Peoples, Trade Policy, and the Mexican Neoliberal Economic Reforms (March 1, 2011). University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 32, p. 723, 2011; Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 11-07. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1260048

Carmen Gonzalez (Contact Author)

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA n/a 98122-1090
United States

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