Carmen Gonzalez


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.