International Law and National Sovereignty: The NAFTA and the Claims of Mexican Jurisdiction

By Sepulveda Amor, Bernardo | Houston Journal of International Law, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

International Law and National Sovereignty: The NAFTA and the Claims of Mexican Jurisdiction


Sepulveda Amor, Bernardo, Houston Journal of International Law


I. The Disillusionment of the Dialogue

The new international economic order is not a widespread concept in the political language of the 1990s. Today's language is far removed from the statements uttered a quarter century ago. Our contemporary reality has progressed from the system of negotiations established under the umbrella of the so-called North-South dialogue. The 1970s witnessed a political event of great importance whose main objective was to end an anachronistic system in the sphere of relations among states and established a new regime in which international economic justice would prevail.

Conditions were ideal for the emergence and consolidation of a political revolution which purported to amend the structure of the entire international economic system -- a phenomenon which is recorded historically as the South-North dialogue. These discussions seem to have currently fallen into total disuse -- remaining alone as a relic of the past. The process of decolonization is one of the reasons for this revolution. During the first twenty-five years of the post-war era, a large number of former colonies became new members of the international community, establishing themselves as free and independent states. These newly independent states were characterized by a political will reaffirming the full exercise of their sovereignty. However, they lacked the economic or political development attributable to a colonial power. Instead, they brought many of the enormous shortcomings of developing nations, including weak political institutions, primitive agricultural economies, social problems, and insufficient industrial sectors. The widespread existence of such common problems among these states created a united demand to negotiate with the industrialized countries for a more equitable economic relationships. In the long run these states were attempting to redefine the rules of the game, which they hoped would yield tangible benefits for what was, in that epoch, referred to as the Third World.

The initial driving force to create a new international economic order was to allow the developing countries the means to defend their legitimate interests. But as a political phenomenon, it also had other distinctive effects. One important feature allowed States to directly participate in the development of a world system which could adjust itself and respond to the needs of the group of non-industrialized countries. Another equally important aspect related to the necessity of joint action as a political formula to defend the interests of the non-industrialized world. During that time, political forces such as the Movement of the Non-aligned Countries, the Organization of Oil Producing Countries (OPEC) and other groups of producers of raw materials gained power. At the same time, developing countries began forming associations based upon common interests. These groupings permitted developing states to exercise genuine political influence in the decision-making process of international organizations.

Another feature of the new economic order concerns the real power exercised by various developing countries. One example is OPEC's show of power during the oil crisis in the early 1970s. During that crisis, the sudden increase in the price of oil touched a vital nerve in international economic relations and clearly showed the industrial world's addiction to energy. That vulnerability has translated, throughout the years, into a capability for political and economic pressure on the part of a group of oil producing countries. OPEC's show of power during that time forced a realization that similar collective action would result in all cases. One might have concluded that this type of joint action would have permitted the Third World to increase its share of the existing world wealth. It might also have accomplished a political objective -- thus providing an immediate benefit to the non-industrialized nations: under the concept of pleno jure -- the sovereign exercise of the use and enjoyment of their national patrimony -- one might have concluded that the states would be able to control their natural resources and to actively participate in defining a new international order in commerce, finances, investment, money, and aid to development. …

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