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The cost of unequal integration: an interdisciplinary agenda for its rediscovery in North America and beyond – an interview with German Reza by Juliana Leal

Unequal trade integration is no novelty on the context of international commercial relations. Nonetheless, this paper will address the need for a new analytical framework for a thorough understanding of the outcomes of unequal trade in North America and beyond. In an effort to deconstruct the orthodox argument of free trade areas, professor Germán Reza, in his article published at RBPI (The cost of unequal integration: an interdisciplinary agenda for its rediscovery in North America and beyond), will explore the assessment of the contrasting outcomes of NAFTA, as well as an overview of relevant literature in the area to, finally, propose the delineation of an interdisciplinary agenda.

The paper will make an effort to demonstrate that the lack of theoretical certainty in the field of unequal trade integration is due, in parts, to the causal opening of the object of study and to the scarce interaction of specialties. Regarding this, his work seeks to contribute to the literature of North-South regionalism by reminding international integration scholars of the importance of understanding the complexity of unequal trade integration and by highlighting the institutional shortcomings of NAFTA-based trade agreements. Finally, Germán Reza sheds light on the need for an interdisciplinary approach, best prepared for decryption of the causally opened phenomena.

Germán Reza was interviewed by Juliana Leal, member of the editorial team of RBPI, regarding to connect the topics related on his own research and the contemporary events. This article was published in the vol. 62, issue 1 of RBPI.

In December 2018, we have seen the rise of Lopez Obrador, the first leftist Mexican president. In contrast, in the US, since 2017, we have have seen Donald Trump ambitious argues on the negotiation to the new bases for the commercial integration with Mexico and Canada. Regarding the neoprotecionist practices; the frayed relations between the two countries; and the clear ideological divergence between the presidents of the two nations, how do you see the future of the US-Mexico trade relationship under the Obrador-Trump dichotomy?

Despite the anti-Mexican rhetoric of the President D. Trump, trade relations between Mexico and United States operate better than one would have expected. At the beginning of 2019, for a short time Mexico became the main trading partner of the United States, reminding us that political relations have not always equivalence in the economy, and that the U.S. Government is in permanent dispute not only with Mexico. Canada and especially China have also been economically harmed. This does not mean that Mexico has escaped to the neo-protectionist offensive of Trump, or the close relationship with United States is beneficial to our country. The USMCA and its rapid ratification by the Mexican congress should not be read as an aspiration to higher or equal benefits than those provided by the NAFTA, but as a fear of losing foreign investment.

The complexity in the relation between Mexico and the United States dates back centuries, when both countries had territorial conflicts for the consolidation of their respective National States. Some historians and analysts argue that their relation was built around traditional paradigms of conflict and imbalance. In this sense, do you believe that it is possible to construct a trade agreement that do not reinforce the understanding of unequal relations? Do you have some examples of trades constructed between historical divergent countries that didn’t reinforce traditional paradigms of domination?

The main sources of unfriendliness between the two countries date back to the North-American war of 1846-1848, when United States amputated half of Mexican territory (more than two million km2). That war and subsequent aggressions have created a deep distrust in Mexico, although nowadays prevails the fact that 80% of its exports go to the U.S. market, often with U.S. industrial inputs. As a result, Mexico must ensure its interests within a context of deep bilateral economic integration. A side-effect of this integration is the increase in economic inequality in North-America. One of the explanations arises from the lack of regional cooperation mechanisms. Several specialists recommend the adoption of convergence instruments similar to the Europeans in the framework of the European Union. However, the Government of Mexico has rejected that goal and gives priority to stability in North American relations by realism: United States has no intention of adding that scope to the bilateral agenda.

In your article, you propose a Cooperative Research between various fields of knowledge, which would help on understanding the problem of unequal integration beyond its “disciplinary encapsulation”. How is it possible to delineate integrated research agendas that align both traditional disciplines and the study of trade among nations?

The article proposes to analyze the effects of the unequal integration in North America from an interdisciplinary perspective. It does not only thinking about the advantages of a comprehensive understanding, but taking into consideration the fact that those effects are not the same in every area of study. A significant number of scientists observed that the main constraint of interdisciplinary research is its lack of regulations, although I think that actually that limiting should be applied to the synthesis of various disciplines, not so much to interdisciplinarity. In my work I propose a less radical practice: through specialized investigations, organized around the same research problem, to achieve a more complete diagnosis about the consequences of integration between countries with different levels of development, avoiding the optimism and pessimism that shed unidisciplinarity.

As you mention in your article, in the early 2000s, many South American countries rejected the idea of full American integration on the basis of the FTAA, which would be seen as an evolution of NAFTA. However, when we contrast the economies of these countries that have refused to enter the FTAA (but have sub-regionally composed more or less asymmetric regional trade agreements) with the Mexican economy, we see that they have no notable differences in growth rates. Regarding this, what would be, for you, a general analysis of the impact of regional trade agreements on Latin America?

A controversial aspect of the integration agreements in Latin America has been its limited impact on the development of associated economies. This has occurred in almost all cases with the exception of some stages and sectors: sectorial integration in Central America and the Andean countries during the first half of the 1970’s, and intra-industry trade between Brazil and Argentina in the 1990s, among others. Despite this, regional integration continues to be a main choice of economic policy. Plays an important role in the world and in Latin America would have to be it for deeper reasons. However, Latin America still seems immature in its intra-regional relations and too dependent on external markets. Analysis of recent years suggests the need to synchronize three often discordant aspects: a) the degree of adaptation of schemes to the actual conditions of each country; b) solid and long range political commitments, and c) the constant update of the sources of opportunity. For this, the reviewing commissions of the agreements should have greater proximity to regional realities and greater powers to improve the regional instruments.

Read the article

Reza, Germán A. de la. (2019). The cost of unequal integration: an interdisciplinary agenda for its rediscovery in North America and beyond. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 62(1), e004. Epub April 29, 2019.

About the authors

Germán de la Reza – Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana – Unidad Xochimilco, Villa Quietud, Coyoacán, Mexico City (

Juliana Leal, master candidate at University of Brasília.

How to cite this interview

Cite this article as: Editoria, "The cost of unequal integration: an interdisciplinary agenda for its rediscovery in North America and beyond – an interview with German Reza by Juliana Leal," in Revista Mundorama, 20/05/2019,

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