What US companies should know about expanding manufacturing to Mexico

manufacturing in Mexico

As of 2019, Mexico is the largest goods trading partner with the U.S. with over $600 billion in imported and exported goods. This relationship has created 1.2 million jobs as of 2015, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Commerce. It's also been reported, as of February 2019, that U.S. trade with Mexico increased 3.36%, while trade with Canada decreased by 4.12% and with China by 13.52%. This illustrates the direct impact of the current administration's trade war with China in particular, which ultimately has had negative repercussions for the U.S.

Generally speaking, products manufactured in Mexico are high-mix, low-volume, such as automotive and aerospace parts. This level of product is more expensive to move from China to North America when compared to shipping from Mexico. They also require more engineering skills than many products manufactured in China, which trend toward low-mix, high-volume, such as sunglasses or clothing.

As a result of Mexico's cost-effectiveness, global companies with a stake in the North American market, including Nestle and the BMW Group, have increased investments in their Mexican factories in recent months. In 2014, Nestle planned a $1 billion investment over five years to build and expand three of its factories in Mexico. And earlier this year, the BMW Group announced its new automotive plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico as a boost to their "regional production flexibility in the Americas."

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Borderlands: CBP opens new fastlane at Laredo’s World Trade Bridge

World Trade Bridge

On August 5, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of the World Trade Bridge's new Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Lane.

The new $10 million paved lane is for northbound FAST empty tractor-trailers to run directly from the bridge, and will decrease wait times at cargo facilities. The FAST program allows expedited processing of trucks owned by commercial carriers that have completed background checks and fulfill certain eligibility requirements.

"The World Trade Bridge processes on average 16,000 trucks daily, carrying goods valued at more than $300 billion annually," said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo). "The creation of this FAST Lane will streamline trade and promote economic growth in the region."

Around 500 empty trailers will be processed daily and the hours of operation for FAST Lane will be Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

"These improvements serve as vital assets to not only Laredo, but the entire United States economy," said Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz.
CBP officials estimate they process around 8,000 northbound truckloads daily at the World Trade Bridge facility.

"The ever-growing traffic volumes have far exceeded the limits of the present facilities and we will work hand in glove with our stakeholders at the federal, state and local levels to assist with improvements that will facilitate traffic at the busiest cargo facility in the southwest border," said David P. Higgerson, director of field operations at the CBP Laredo Field Office.

There were 195,918 commercial vehicle crossings at the World Trade Bridge in June, representing a 0.7 percent increase from the same time last year, according to the latest data from the city of Laredo.

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Regional Development Key to a Strong North American Trade Bloc

North American Trade Bloc

For many years now, a concern of mine has been that the purpose of free trade and the agreements that envelop trade between regions has not been properly explained or promoted to communities, especially at the grass roots level.

Recently, Guillermo Malpica, trade commissioner of Mexico and executive director at the American Chamber of Commerce in Monterrey, Mexico, paid San Antonio a visit for a series of roundtables and presentations on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement(USMCA). At an energy sector meeting with Malpica, San Antonio energy industry leaders investing in Mexico were expecting to get a sense of direction and clarity regarding Mexico's energy policies.

One roundtable participant asked "what industries are the winners and the losers" in the USMCA. When you ask questions like these, you are basically taking apart a macroeconomic tool and looking at the individual parts. Separate parts don't work unless they are put together like a precision clock.

These types of agreements are not meant to be dissected. Not unlike the cute little frog you dissected in school, the innards don't look pretty. Trade agreements are macroeconomic tools that are designed to benefit economies. Yes, there were industries that were hit very hard once NAFTA came into play, but those industries were not ready.

The signals were clear when Mexico agreed to enter the General Agreement for Trade and Tariffs GATT in 1978 (today the World Trade Organization). My father, the Deputy Director General for the Foreign Trade Institute of Mexico during the 1970s, would have conferences and meetings with Mexican manufacturers, warning them to be ready to compete, up their quality, and export.

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Mexico first to ratify USMCA trade deal, Trump presses U.S. Congress to do same

USMCA Trade Deal

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico on Wednesday became the first country to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) agreed late last year to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at the behest of U.S. President Donald Trump.

By a vote of 114 in favor to 4 against, Mexico's Senate backed the deal tortuously negotiated between 2017 and 2018 after Trump repeatedly threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if he could not get a better trade agreement for the United States.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had already anticipated ratification this week in the Senate, where his leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and its allies have a comfortable majority in the 128-member chamber.

There has been little parliamentary opposition in Mexico to trying to safeguard market access to United States, by far Mexico's top export destination, and the trade deal was approved with overwhelming cross-party support in the Senate.

Mexico sends around 80% of its exports to the United States, and Trump last month vowed to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods if Lopez Obrador does not reduce the flow of U.S.-bound illegal immigration from Central America.

Lopez Obrador says he wants to avoid conflict with Trump, but noted at the weekend that the tariff dispute showed Mexico needed to become more economically self-sufficient.

Trump congratulated Lopez Obrador on Twitter for Mexico's approval. "Time for Congress to do the same here!" he wrote.

Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, posted a video on Twitter in which he called the Senate's approval "very good news" and said it augured well for Mexico's relations with the United States.

Canada, which has also fought with Trump over trade, is pressing ahead to ratify the deal. The main question mark hanging over its ratification is in the United States, where Democratic lawmakers have threatened to block the process.

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Mexico says it is close to U.S. metals tariff deal, waiting for Canada

Mexico Tariffs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexico is close to resolving its dispute with the United States over steel and aluminum tariffs without quotas but hopes Canada can reach a similar agreement before completing it, a senior Mexican official said on Wednesday.

Jesus Seade, Mexican deputy foreign minister for North America, told Reuters by telephone that a deal to remove the so-called Section 232 tariffs was "very close" but he wanted Canada to be in the same position in its negotiations with Washington.

"What we've been talking about for a week," he said, "is eliminating the 232 without any quotas," noting that it was "very possible" Canada could sign up to a "similar" deal.

Sudden movements in future trade could be handled via a "consultation and monitoring system," he added, noting Mexico still had the option of sealing a deal without Canada.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also expressed optimism about a resolution to the steel dispute, but a top Canadian official avoided direct comment on that possibility.

"I think we are close to an understanding with Mexico and Canada," on resolving the tariffs, Mnuchin said at a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. He did not provide any details about the potential agreement.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she discussed the tariffs on Canadian metals with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday, but declined to say whether the two countries were close to a deal.

"We made the case as we have been doing for some time that the best outcome for both Canadians and Americans would be to lift those tariffs and to have free trade between our two countries who have this fantastic trading relationship in place," she told reporters after the meeting in Washington.

A USTR spokeswoman declined comment on the meeting.

Asked about prospects for a deal, Freeland said she would not discuss Canada's negotiating strategy. She added that if Washington kept the tariffs in place, it would be "very, very problematic" for Canadian ratification of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal (USMCA).

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Mexico Border Delays Seen Weighing on US Investment, Factories

Border Delays

More cargo from Mexico to the United States is being held up at the border, accompanied by increasing evidence that such delays are dimming prospects for American companies.

Slower trade between the countries since federal border officers recently were redirected to deal with a surge in migrants has been socking businesses with additional shipping costs. The effects likely will cause a modest headwind for second-quarter nonresidential investment growth — which cooled at the start of the year — and already helped to push a U.S. factory gauge to a two-year low in April, according to Bank of America Corp.

"The delays generate a meaningful direct cost for businesses," economist Stephen Juneau said in an e-mail May 6. The disruption may have a significant impact on the flow of goods, as more than 86% of Mexican imports enter the U.S. by land, and impose some $5.5 million in additional costs on U.S. businesses each month, he wrote in a report May 3.

Trucking company Werner Enterprises Inc. said on an April 25 earnings call that it expects border crossing to be "slow for the foreseeable future."

"Freight is still crossing the border at a very slow rate by comparable standards," said Derek Leathers, CEO of the Omaha, Neb.-based company.

Werner ranks No. 15 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said March 27 that trade processing would slow, with as many as 750 officers from crossings in the San Diego, Tucson, Ariz.; El Paso and Laredo, Texas, regions being re-assigned. President Donald Trump the next day renewed threats to close the border.

The Institute for Supply Management's factory survey last week showed April conditions at the weakest since October 2016, though still expansionary. The production component also fell to a more than two-year low, which Juneau said likely was in part because of border delays.

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China and Canada fall away as Mexico becomes the US’ biggest trading partner

Trade with Mexico

In the trade war with the United States, China's loss is Mexico's gain.

China's bilateral trade with the US weakened in the first quarter of this year after export order front-loading from both countries started to fade. Mexico has taken advantage of
the trade tariffs on Chinese goods to become the US' top trading partner of the US so far this year, according to new data from the US Census Bureau.

This shows that while US President Donald Trump has stood firm on stopping Mexican immigrants on the US' southern border, he has not been able to stop the flow of Mexican goods, which are partially filling the gap left by Chinese goods affected by the trade dispute.

The news comes despite the fact that Trump has been trying to force a revised deal through Congress to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, covering the trilateral trade bloc of Canada, United States, and Mexico.

The US had US$102.5 billion in goods trade with Mexico in the first two months of the year. In second place was Canada at US$97.5 billion and then China at US$96.7 billion, according to seasonally adjusted data from the US Census Bureau. Mexico had been in third place, behind Canada and China.

China's General Administration of Customs has said that from January to March, overall trade with the US fell 11 per cent year on year, to 815.8 billion yuan (US$121 billion). The US is now behind the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in order of
China's biggest trading partners.

China was still the home to most US imports – US$80 billion – but that was down 11 per cent from January-February a year earlier. By contrast, Mexican exports to the US rose 5 per cent to US$58.7 billion over the same period.

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Border wait times swell amid customs officer shuffle to handle migrant crisis

border slowdown

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico - U.S. President Donald Trump hasn't followed through on his threat to shut the border with Mexico, but one crossing here that connects this Mexican city with Laredo, Texas provided a glimpse of the chaos and economic disruptions that it would likely ensue.

Lines of 18-wheeled semi-trucks carrying auto parts, produce and other goods for U.S. consumers and businesses stretched more than six miles into Mexico Wednesday after the Trump administration shifted Customs and Border Protection agents from Laredo and other Texas border crossings to El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley to deal with the flood of asylum seekers from Central America. Waits to cross the World Trade Bridge, which normally run 30 minutes, reached more than three hours.

The impact of the delays was being felt on both sides of the Rio Grande, with those who depend on U.S.-Mexico trade barely able to consider what would happen if the Trump closed the border. Ernesto Gaytan, president of the Laredo company Super Transport International, which has 200 trucks on the American side of the border and 300 more on the Mexican side, said he couldn't put a number on it, but knew the delays were costing him money. A complete border shutdown, he estimated, would cost his company $200,000 a day.

On the other side of the border, Roberto Hernandez was idling at the back of the line with hundreds of 18-wheelers ahead of him. Hernandez doesn't get paid by the hour, but rather by the number of loads he delivers.

Usually, he makes four cross-border runs a day, earning the equivalent of about $15 per load. But he was only able to make two trips on Tuesday and his is daily pay fell to $30 from $60.

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USMCA opens a can of worms

USMCA Agreement

Traditionally, Mexico has offered foreign manufacturers cost advantages in the form of low wages. That may change soon.

Labor organizations in the U.S. and Canada often cite low wages and paltry workers' rights as the reasons why many jobs have been lost to Mexico. Hence, it is no surprise that the U.S. and Canada made it a point to include provisions that addressed these issues in the proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

For example, in addition to increased regional value content rules, the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement includes labor value content requirements. Under those provisions, 40 to 45 percent of a vehicle's value must be manufactured by employees earning at least $16 an hour. Automakers will be able to credit up to 10 percent from R&D and 5 percent for assembly in high-wage regions.

The precise formulas will be addressed in the uniform regulations still under discussion.

The underlying intention of this new requirement is to slow the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing to Mexico. The unintended consequence is the increased compliance cost that will ultimately be transferred to the consumer.

Further, as part of the concluded trade deal, Mexico agreed to reform its labor laws. Passage of the USMCA by the U.S. Congress is conditioned on it. The two main objectives of the Mexican reforms are:

  1. Achieving labor union democratization, transparency and liberty.
  2. Shifting the dispute settlement process from local employment courts to the federal judicial branch.

Perhaps most important to labor organizations is the first, the issue of workers' representation in unions. It is widely claimed that Mexican labor unions don't legitimately represent their members' interests, lack transparency in their governance and are structured to advance economic interests over workers' rights. That is why many believe wages in Mexico have remained so low despite overall good macroeconomic performance in the country.

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Suppliers and buyers clash over tomato trade policy change

tomatoes from Mexico

The debate surrounding this move to withdraw from the 6-year-old agreement with Mexico demonstrates that President Trump's "Buy American" ethos is not a simple concept in today's economy.

Supporters of withdrawal are mainly suppliers of tomatoes and say it didn't serve its purpose of protecting American farmers. Supporters include Florida tomato growers along with Sen. Marco Rubio and nearly 50 other lawmakers largely representing Southern and Eastern states along with Michigan, California and Puerto Rico. In a letter to the Secretary of Commerce requesting termination of the agreement, these parties wrote Mexico's market share of tomatoes sold in the U.S. has gone from one third to half of the market.

"The U.S. tomato industry has been the canary in the coal mine for domestic fruit and vegetable production over the last three decades. Immediately terminating the suspension agreement will reinvigorate the anti-dumping investigation on fresh tomatoes from Mexico and send the message that the U.S. will ensure vigilant enforcement of our existing trade laws and trade agreements," said Rubio in a statement.

But other U.S. constituencies, mostly on the buy-side of industry, are less supportive of the tack by the Commerce Department. The Border Trade Alliance called the decision "a move that attempts to tilt trade policy in favor of parochial Florida farmer interests, but jeopardizes the health of the national agriculture industry."

The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas is also against withdrawing, stating: "Even a 5% reduction in supplies of Mexican tomatoes would result in consumers paying up to 25 cents more per pound at supermarkets, or up to $790 million more per year for tomatoes."

There is still a chance that a resolution may be reached in the intervening 90 days, but the timing is particularly demonstrative of how no trade deal, no matter how specific, happens in a vacuum. With the USMCA still not ratified by the U.S., Mexico or Canada, these smaller fights may have an impact far beyond farms and grocery stores.

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