those of other American growers who opposed trade liberalization with Mexico. But once NAFTA was approved, each crop was on its own. Significantly, in their last-ditch effort to prevent the opening of the American markets, the California avocado growers received only token backing from other growers, each of whom was now focused on protecting their own markets.

The liberalization of the American avocado market represents an almost textbook case of the benefits of trade liberalization. For what NAFTA did was to subject American "scientific" restrictions on avocado imports to international scrutiny. And it turns out that they were unable to survive such scrutiny. In effect, NAFTA made possible the triumph of science over economics. Without NAFTA, or more specifically, the access that NAFTA accorded the scientific claims of those who favored trade liberalization, the various scientific protocols and procedures that had been devised to permit the importation of Mexican avocados in ways that did not endanger American growers would have remained stillborn. From this perspective, this case illustrates trade liberalization at its best: It changed a regulation whose only purpose was to protect the economic interests of American producers, and, as a result of this change, American consumers are better off.

At the same time, it is important to keep the significance of this case study in perspective. This dispute over SPS standards was primarily an economic one: It pitted the interests of American avocado growers against Mexican growers. There was no question of consumer safety; what was in dispute was the "safety" of domestic growers. American producers and consumers had opposite interests. Because the former could not claim that the latter's health and safety would be endangered if the importation of Mexican avocados was permitted, American consumer groups could not be mobilized to back the avocado ban. This stands in sharp contrast to, for example, the beef hormone dispute between the United States and the European Union, which does raise politically salient consumer health issues. Accordingly, European consumers and consumer groups have become important allies of protectionist producers. This makes the resolution of this dispute through appeals to "science" much more difficult.


Vogel, D. 1995. Trading Up: Consumer and Environmental Regulations in a Global Economy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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