Deconstructing the Mythology of Free Trade: Critical Reflections on Comparative Advantage

Carmen G. Gonzalez

Seattle University School of Law

April 13, 2006

Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, Vol. 17, p. 65, 2006

The theory of comparative advantage serves as the theoretical justification for the neoliberal economic reforms promoted by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and multilateral and regional free trade agreements. This article employs insights from both neoclassical and heterodox economics in order to critique the theory of comparative advantage as applied to the agricultural sector. In particular, the article takes aim at the illusory notion that eliminating distortions in international agricultural trade caused by the lavish agricultural subsidies of wealthy nations will be sufficient to “level the playing field” and promote prosperity in both developed and developing countries. The article argues that trade liberalization in wealthy countries is necessary in order to address inequities in the global trading system that maintain the subordinate status of the global South. However, only an asymmetrical set of rules requiring market openness in wealthy nations and permitting protectionism in poor nations can truly enable developing countries to diversify and industrialize their economies. The article concludes with several recommendations designed to advance the interests of the global South in the Doha Round of WTO negotiations. In addition, the article discusses the unique, multifunctional role of agricultural production in meeting basic human rights (including the fundamental right to food) and in protecting biodiversity, and argues that these concerns must be central rather than peripheral considerations in the Doha Round of WTO negotiations.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 29

Keywords: WTO, trade policy, food security, environmental law, colonialism, post-colonial studies, comparative advantage, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, international law, trade law, agricultural law, biodiversity, human rights law, political economy

JEL Classification: F13, F18, F54, Q17, Q56, N50, O24, K32, K33

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Date posted: April 15, 2010 ; Last revised: March 12, 2011

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Carmen G., Deconstructing the Mythology of Free Trade: Critical Reflections on Comparative Advantage (April 13, 2006). Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, Vol. 17, p. 65, 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1588987

Contact Information

Carmen G. 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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