MCALLEN, Texas – The headline for a top story in The New York Times today reads “As Workers Fall Ill, U.S. Presses Mexico to Keep American-Owned Plants Open.
In the story, reporter Natalie Kitroeff explains that workers in maquilas in Mexico are reluctant to go back to work because they fear contracting COVID-19.
However, U.S. political and business leaders are pushing for Mexico to re-open the plants because they are a key cog in the North America supply chain. Kitroeff points out that the U.S. deems the products manufactured in the maquilas “essential.” However, as the story points out, the products seem more essential to the United States than to Mexico.
The Border Trade Alliance is one of the groups that wants the maquilas to start producing again. On Thursday they group praised U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for leading a bipartisan group of senators that has written to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The senators want Pompeo to work closely with Mexico to coordinate that country’s definition of “essential businesses” in order to avoid disruptions to the cross-border supply chain.
In their letter to Pompeo, Cornyn, Feinstein and the other senators cited concerns that, unless Mexico further clarifies its essential businesses definition, critical components in the supply chains of industries ranging from aerospace, to construction, to food could face interruptions.
The letter makes no mention of the importance of creating a safe working environment for Mexican workers. In fact, it does not mention the workers at all. Perhaps the senators believe that the safety of the workplace is a given because so many of the modern Maquila plants are high tech.
“The leadership of Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Feinstein during this tumultuous period has been invaluable,” BTA President Ms. Britton Clarke said. “The maintenance of cross-border trade is critical in order to avoid even more harm to the North American economy. As we approach the implementation of the USMCA, we thank Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Feinstein for ensuring the continuity of our international supply chains with as few disruptions as possible.”
The BTA earlier this month sent its own letter to the secretary of Mexico’s Ministry of Health urging greater alignment between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada in defining an essential service or industry.
“Discrepancies between countries in the identification of essential services and industries are likely to cause increased disruptions to cross-border supply chains at a time when ensuring and preserving efficient cross-border trade and commerce is more important than ever, especially in industries like medical supplies, personal protective equipment, agribusiness, manufacturing and food and beverage (non-alcohol and alcohol),” the BTA letter says.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows employees protesting outside a factory in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, that remained open during the pandemic. (Photo credit: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)
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