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Policy Space for Mexican Maize:
Protecting Agro-biodiversity by Promoting Rural Livelihoods
GDAE Working Paper No. 07-01, February 2007

Timothy A. Wise

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:

This paper has been published in Spanish as "Estado de Emergencia para el Maiz Mexicano: Proteger la agrobiodiversidad apuntalando la economia campesina," a chapter in the book, Desde los Colores del Maiz: Una agenda para el campo mexicano, J. Luis Seefoo Lujan, editor, El Colegio de Michoacan, 2008. The Spanish version can be downloaded at:

For more on GDAE’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program:

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