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Policy space for Mexican maize: Protecting agro-biodiversity by promoting rural livelihoods

Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University
GDAE Working Paper No. 07-01

Policy Space for Mexican Maize: Protecting Agro-biodiversity by Promoting Rural Livelihoods

Timothy A. Wise
February 2007

Tufts University
Medford MA 02155, USA


Since the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in
1994, traditional maize farmers in Mexico have faced difficult economic conditions. In
barely more than a decade, as many as one million farmers may have abandoned their
land under economic pressure from rising imports, low prices for maize and other
traditional crops, weak local and regional demand, and large reductions in public sector
support for agriculture. The losses are environmental as well as economic. With the loss
of traditional maize, there has been a documented loss of the agricultural biodiversity of
which these farmers and their ancestors have been stewards for centuries. With maize
trade scheduled to be fully liberalized under NAFTA in 2008, many farm groups are
calling for a renegotiation of the treaty’s agricultural provisions to prevent further
damage. This policy analysis examines the room for alternative policies in Mexico under
existing economic and environmental agreements, including NAFTA. It finds that the Mexican government could, even without a renegotiation of parts of NAFTA:

 Justify the imposition of protective tariffs as countervailing measures to counter high U.S. subsidies to its corn farmers.
 Expand its own government support for the maize sector, since its current support remains billions of dollars below the country’s allowable limits under the WTO.
 Use its participation in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to restrict imports from the United States, which contain large quantities of genetically modified corn.

It concludes that
the Mexican government retains access to many useful policy instruments that could
promote rural livelihoods while arresting the losses of important maize diversity. What is
lacking is the political will to make use of them.

The paper can be downloaded at:

 source: GDAE