Upon Mexico's entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), neo-classical trade theory assumed, first, that it had the greatest potential for higher rates of growth, productivity and overall welfare gains due to its relatively underdeveloped status; and, second, that Mexico's adjustment to an integrated, liberal economy would be the most painful but also the most beneficial. It was envisioned that the blending of Mexico's endowment factors - cheap labour, natural resources and proximity to the US market - with the abundant capital and advanced technology of Canada and the US would maximize on NAFTA's competitive potential over the long-term. However, these expectations have yet to fully materialize. This paper reviews the convergence/divergence debate with regard to NAFTA and Mexico, and analyzes the empirical data that have been used to tout both the benefits and the costs of asymmetrical integration. In light of the standstill in Mexico's per capita growth since 2001, this paper concludes with a critique of the potential role of NAFTA as a development tool and argues that the steep regional asymmetries call for a more proactive continental strategy.
Carol Wise is Associate Professor in the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. Holding a PhD in political science from Columbia University, she specializes in political economy issues as they relate to the development process in Latin America.