Last year, the organic chewing gum producers from the South of Mexico, also known as chicleros, launched an initiative to improve the trade treatment they receive. The reasons for doing this are quite clear. Unlike conventional chewing gum, which is made from petrochemicals that damage not just the environment but also people’s health, the gum the chicleros produce is made from the resin of the chicozapote tree and is completely biodegradable. Because of this notorious distinction, the product has been a tremendous success around the world, especially in countries like the United States, Japan, and the European Union member states.
Chicleros are part of the micro-industries from the Mayan Rainforest where chicozapote trees grow. The industry is very important to the local people because it provides economic resources that allow them to improve the quality of their lives, with access to better education and healthcare. But it is also a key resource for the rainforest itself. Chicleros take care of the environment around them, since it doesn’t just represent their supplies but also their home.
However, the chicozapote chewing gum industry faces a major obstacle: trade discrimination. The product receives the same trade treatment as the conventional chewing gum, which means that it is subjected to the same taxes. Taxes were imposed on the chewing gum industry because the conventional product contaminates the streets, affecting people, the environment, and animals such as birds and dogs. It also creates costs for local governments that are forced to remove it. Petrochemical chewing gum takes five or more years to biodegrade, while the one made from chicozapote takes just a few weeks, with no impact on health and the environment. Due to this trade discrimination, production is restricted, which means blocked access for consumers and continued street pollution in cities worldwide.
This year the industry presented an initiative to the Mexican Senate to change the legislation and recognise the chicozapote chewing gum as different from the conventional petrochemical one. This would free the product from all the measures and taxes unfairly applied. Some of the benefits of this initiative are:
- The product will be more affordable, so more consumers will have access to biodegradable chewing gum, eliminating a great percentage of gum from the streets.
- The industry will grow, so the area will have more economic and social development.
- A great percentage of the sales will be destined to create more schools and clinics, allowing people to improve their welfare.
- Organic production will be more relevant in subsequent years and then will help other industries to grow as well.
The World Trade Organization (WTO), alongside other international organisations such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Trade Commission (ITC), and the United Nations (UN), have been actively promoting trade to mitigate climate change. They have done different studies and collected data that prove the potential of this area. The data confirm the linkage between trade and the environment. That could be either positive or negative. Trade has been divided into different branches such as biotrade, in order to recognise those goods and services that truly contribute to mitigating climate risks.
It is quite important that policymakers all over the world understand the structure of biotrade, which also represents the trade of organic chewing gum, so they can create mechanisms that allow the industry – in this case- to become more popular among consumers and substitute environment-friendly products for harmful ones. This will stimulate not just consumption but also the production of related industries to adopt “green” alternatives and protect our planet and ourselves from a noxious chew.
- The post gives the views of its author, not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.
- Featured image by Adam Jones, Ph.D., under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence
- When you comment, you’re agreeing to our Comment Policy
Amanda Rosalia Aranda Novoa is a member of the Mexican Council for Foreign Affairs (COMEXI). She currently works as government trade adviser with a special focus on agricultural products. She has previously worked at the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the WTO and with UK Trade & Investment through the British Embassy in Mexico.