The Transformation of Mexican Agriculture: International Structure and the Politics of Rural Change

The Transformation of Mexican Agriculture: International Structure and the Politics of Rural Change

by S. Sanderson


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Friday, May 21


In spite of the most thorough agrarian reform in nonsocialist Latin America, Mexico cannot feed its population. Steven Sanderson attributes the problems of Mexican agriculture to an internationalization of the food system promoted by the Mexican state, the trade system, and agribusiness.

Originally published in 1986.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691611198
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/14/2014
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #425
Pages: 348
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Transformation of Mexican Agriculture

International Structure and the Politics of Rural Change

By Steven E. Sanderson


Copyright © 1986 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-07693-5


The Transformation of Mexican Agriculture and the New International Division of Labor

The New International Division of Labor

In the mid-1980s, the production, exchange, distribution, and consumption of many commodities are undergoing profound structural change. World markets frame many goods and labor processes. Those markets govern not only world prices but "worldwide sourcing" for manufactures, "global strategies" of integrated international enterprises, and ultimately the "internationalization" of national economies in new ways. As this "new" world economy challenges U.S. hegemony in trade, the "globalization" of production will figure large on the international political agenda. From OECD economic summits to more prosaic bilateral trade negotiations between the United States and Mexico, trade policy makers worry over the international realignment of production that is making its way into the discourse of economic recovery.

The evidence of this changing productive structure appears across a broad range of social science literature. New studies on the "reindustrialization" of the United States implicitly treat these international phenomena through the special lens focusing on employment in the industrial heartland of America, the composition of agricultural trade with other countries, and the comparative advantage traditionally enjoyed by the United States in consumer manufactures, agricultural commodities, and high-technology goods and services.

In international relations literature, of course, the "interdependence" of the world has long been recognized. Writers taking widely varying political positions have all contributed to the general understanding of regional and global political integration, the quest for international and transnational economic coalitions, and — in perhaps unrecognized ways the midwife to all these literatures — the realist perception of mutual security interests among allies. At the same time, however, other intellectuals have focused on the deep-seated inequality of interstate relations, not only in the political realm, but in development and trade as well. Thus, the dependency and "development of underdevelopment" literatures have contributed to understanding the inequality as well as the depth of North-South integration.

Nevertheless, for the most part the mainstream literature of economic development and international relations does not take us beyond the international framework of analysis to permit us to understand interstate relations in a truly global context. Even in the discussions of specific global regimes, the focus is on institutions and functional analysis rather than the overarching dynamics of change at the global level.

Those who have studied global inequality suffer similar problems of scope and level. The nation-centric "inequality of nations" approach fails to account for underlying dynamics of inequality and ends up with little more than a realist acknowledgment of misery in the international system. Similarly, dependentistas vacillate between global system and imperialist domination in their analysis of the permanent structural inequality pervading North-South relations. World-systems analysts reify the market as a continuous and all-embracing global institution and fail to account for qualitative transformations in the modes and levels of capital accumulation.

What the world is witnessing in the late twentieth century involves a more mobile, flexible capitalist organization of production itself, whereby a different labor force — less organized, more mobile, in many instances cheaper, and certainly not "entitled" to participation in programs under the rubric of social welfare and services — is employed for the sake of industrial and agricultural rationalization at a global level. The U.S. economy engages Jamaican cane cutters and Central American vegetable pickers in Florida. Undocumented agricultural and service sector workers from Mexico appear throughout the United States to "supplement" or replace local labor. Mexican, Caribbean, and Asian garment workers populate the sweatshops of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Miami. The new international division of labor means the migration of people from their homes to foreign sites of employment.

The internationalization of labor implies far more than the simple movement of labor forces, however. If the international division of labor is genuinely new, it is partly because of the system's growing ability to reproduce the most advanced labor processes throughout the world, and thereby to integrate not only commodity markets but people themselves. Tastes, work styles, household employment, and status values all respond to the expanded international system, even within very specific national traditions, values, and customs.

These processes of internationalization, whether in the form of direct foreign investment in agribusiness, migrating labor forces, or export processing in manufactures, create systemic pressures on trade policy, investment regulations, immigration policy, and rural development designs. In turn, new forms of protectionism against Third World competitors within the developed capitalist economies change the language of commerce from free trade to domestic job protection. In a word, the mutual integration of the North and the South has also meant a certain homogenization of nationalist trade and investment strategies — even with a generous allowance for specific national experiences.

But, if it is easy to itemize elements of the new international division of labor, it is more difficult to conceptualize it and describe its motor force. Implicit in such a broad conceptual scheme is the "level of analysis" problem, in which the specific dynamics to be described must be linked to broader global processes and institutions. The tradition of comparative politics, immigration studies, international relations, and international economics has emphasized an international or cross-national focus. While such foci have their place, they ignore the critical core of the new international division of labor: the transnational organization of labor processes and commodity production. Many firms known as multinational corporations in the 1970s are transnational corporations in the 1980s, given their organizational transition to global corporations (as opposed to national companies with overseas operations). The terms "transnational associations" and "integrated international enterprises" found in leading journals such as Business Week attest to the difficulty of nation-centric analysis in our era of globalization.

Nevertheless, social science has responded in some ways to the recognition that the international system increasingly mediates national prerogatives of development. Nation-centric models of modernization have given way to international models, emphasizing interdependence, dependence, imperialism, or other theoretical constructs focused more directly on the international system and its impact on national development.

Before examining such phenomena in the Mexican setting, we must establish some of the key elements of the new international division of labor. First, internationalization no longer means foreign domination in the same sense as it applied during the epoch of colonial rule or the heyday of agricultural export enclaves in the late nineteenth century. Internationalization does not observe the canons of the old "international division of labor," in which Great Britain and the United States presided over the bulk of world trade, and the economies of the Third World imported virtually all their manufactured products and much of their capital and technology from center countries. Currently, many Third World countries, especially in Latin America, display high levels of intraregional trade outside the United States, Britain, and other center countries (e.g., Argentina, Brazil, and the Andean countries). The new international division of labor implies a domination by trade relations and by the transnational integration of production itself, not in the context of empire, but through the medium of the less nation-bound internationalization of productive capital.

Analysts of the internationalization of capital and the new international division of labor agree that these two related concepts both stem from a structural transformation of the world economy, which has been acknowledged and worried over since the beginning of the 1970s. Institutional upheavals such as the death of the Bretton Woods monetary system, the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979, the structural change in the trade bill of the United States, and the competitive successes of Japan and the German Federal Republic have all been thrown together in loose descriptions of the new international division of labor. Even recent discussions of the debt crisis have assumed a language of economic integration: debtor countries are described as being more deeply and more "rationally" drawn into the international economic system, guided by the IMF, OECD trade policies, and national directors of fiscal and monetary austerity.

After that simple agreement, however, analysts soon part company. In an enormously oversimplified way, even leading international banks concede that the international system is increasingly "penetrated" by competitive products from "developing countries." The decline of American competitiveness in the export of manufactured goods and the successes of East Asian and Latin American rivals have become the single common denominator of this literature. And, in the dialogue about the recovery of debtor countries such as Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Mexico, the problems of OECD protectionism and the uneven export performance of Latin American manufactures mark the general acceptance in the banking community of the "interpenetrated" trade system.

Other international organizations more concerned with the developing-country analog, of course, focus on the "internationalization of Third World economies," a theme found particularly in literature from the FAO and CEPAL. But most of these interpretations focus on trade, especially export platforms, and imply that the international division of labor is new mainly for the reversal of the old division of labor in the international system. That is, these analysts maintain that the new international division of labor restructures the system so that the previous hewers of wood and drawers of water — the Third World raw materials providers — now export a substantial amount of manufactured and processed goods, and quite often are importers of raw materials from developed countries. The cases of Brazil and Mexico certainly fit this description. Brazil imports a broad array of raw materials inputs for agroindustry and other consumer goods; Mexico imports inputs even to the extent of depending on trade in seeds and seedlings to produce agricultural exports competing with foreign truck farm goods. Now, for the first time, developed capitalist countries are threatened with competition in a number of sectors of industrial and agricultural activity in which they enjoyed advantages for generations. The United States, a traditional exporter of beef, begins to import beef and live cattle. U.S. and continental European citrus are threatened by Brazilian and Mexican competition. Brazilian poultry exports threaten the traditional U.S. and European domination of Middle Eastern markets. And in wearing apparel, textiles, leather goods, and food and beverage processing — all dependent on primary inputs from agriculture — more value is added in Third World countries and less in the developed capitalist world. The developed capitalist countries, it appears, are losing some of their economic preeminence to Third World parvenus.

This study hopes to propose a more sophisticated understanding of the internationalization of the world economy than the above literature permits. These international changes will be described as a function of the expansion of capital, its valorization and reproduction at a global level, cast in the local settings of Mexican agriculture. According to this understanding, the new international division of labor is a product of the global transformation of labor processes, in this case focusing on the Mexican countryside. The scholarship on this question incorporates much of the best of earlier studies of multinational capital based on the gains from and productive implications of international trade, the product life cycle, institutional imperatives for transnational expansion, and similar explanations documenting the expansion of production itself beyond national borders. But the important difference in this approach rests on explaining change less through industrial organization and the locus of equity than through the changes felt at the local level of production. We will never stray entirely from the realities of rural lives.

This is not to ignore nation and national economy as important forces; it does suggest that we should concentrate on a nation's insertion in the global capitalist system. But rather than considering domestic development policy and external payments and trade disequilibria to be phenomena of closed national systems, this approach concentrates on the interaction of national economies in a transnational system. Specifically, the new international division of labor as used here implies the transformation of labor processes at the international level; the standardization of work and the differentiation of work processes in national contexts; the mobility of capital for the sake of worldwide sourcing, regional comparative advantage, local market enhancement, and other well-known institutional imperatives for expansion; cross-sectoral integration and coordination of production, which often replace equity control of transnational production; a "deepening" of international integration beyond simple commodity trade integration; and the mutual structural adjustment of developed and underdeveloped countries in the new international division of labor.

Beyond these initial premises, the analysis will focus on a little-considered aspect of the new international division of labor: the reorientation of state power. Because most of the phenomena listed above are economic in nature, their definition has advanced beyond political analysis focusing on state strategies of development and the complications of international relations emanating from the new international division of labor. Nation-states have, of course, borne a heavy responsibility for exchange rate management, trade promotion, and foreign policy, as well as rural development and industrialization. But such responsibilities have not necessarily enhanced state power, as is often assumed. The state has often been forced to act as the authorized agent of the international system and to adopt a very restrictive menu of political choices at home. As is the case with Mexico, the state experiences an expansion of its apparatus and responsibility toward the international financial community and individual capitalists exposed in portfolio or direct investment, but at the same time finds that its opportunities to exit from economic crisis are shaped more narrowly in the form of a recipe for deeper integration into the international economic system. In this respect, at least, the power of the state can actually decline, when defined as the enacted capacity to enhance national economic decision-making autonomy or to negotiate the terms of national participation in the international division of labor.

Concretely, that means that the nation-state cannot negotiate from strength for commodity trade agreements in a time of low world prices and beggar-thy-neighbor trade and investment policies. "Obeying nurse" by subscribing to IMF stabilization programs precludes traditional economic nationalism, domestic protectionism, or other time-honored remedies for the structural inequality of the international system. Regardless of its successes and failures, economic nationalism has been the single historical response of Third World nations faced with unremitting and unqualified economic integration into the international system. The vulnerability that comes as a result of this political weakness came first to Mexico in the realm of food policy and agricultural internationalization.


Excerpted from The Transformation of Mexican Agriculture by Steven E. Sanderson. Copyright © 1986 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • FrontMatter, pg. i
  • Contents, pg. vii
  • List of Figures, pg. xi
  • List of Figures, pg. xiii
  • Acknowledgments, pg. xvii
  • List of Abbreviations, pg. xxi
  • Introduction, pg. 1
  • CHAPTER ONE. The Transformation of Mexican Agriculture and the New International Division of Labor, pg. 14
  • CHAPTER TWO. The Politics of Produce: Mexico, the United States and the Internationalization of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables, pg. 64
  • CHAPTER THREE. From Cimarron to Feedlot: The Emergence of the Binational Frontier Beef Industry, pg. 119
  • CHAPTER FOUR. Not By Bread Alone: The Future of the Mexican Basic Grains Complex, pg. 182
  • CHAPTER FIVE. Markets, Politics, and the Public Economy: The Allocation of Resources in Mexican Agriculture, pg. 230
  • Conclusion, pg. 273
  • Bibliography, pg. 285
  • Index, pg. 309

Customer Reviews