Saturday, April 29, 2006

China, Maquiladoras, and Immigration

Maquiladoras, Rise and Fall: Nearly ten years ago the role of the Maquiladoras was being held up as an example of how free trade could help countries such as Mexico offer stable jobs to their populations. Initially, these manufacturing centers employed over one million Mexicans, producing everything from Nike shoes, shirts and house-hold electronics. These plants also served as a potential force for keeping Mexicans in Mexico. However over the last 5 years China has emerged as a threat to Mexico's manufacturing base and her Maquiladoras.
China: With her 1.2 billion people and massive manufacturing base, China has decimated the North American, low-skilled manufacturing base. From 2001 to 2002, Mexico lost nearly 600 maquiladoras out of an active roster of 3,200 export assembly plants, mostly in electronics and ready-made clothing. These losses have continued throughout this decade and like other developing countries, Mexico is struggling to protect a once steady source of employment from China's "Giant Sucking" sound.
Competing with China: Since the global economy has emerged from the Post 9-11 Recession, Mexico and her maquiladoras have been out-maneuvered by more a competitive China. Most recently, China further exhibited it's drive to attract manufacturing businesses by creating Free Trade Zones (FTZs) in order to combat the Maquiladoras. Without an educated and highly developed workforce, Mexico is less able to compete with China and in turn is more vulnerable to the dynamic forces this global economy has unleashed.
How does this relate to the current immigration debate? The decline of the Maquiladoras and corresponding job-losses has coincided with the increased movement of illegal immigrants. With a contracting manufacturing base, job seekers head north finding work in America's expanding service-based economy. Debating immigration and potential solutions without taking into account the "global" nature of the issue is like going to a gun fight with a knife- you will lose. Our elected leaders need to move beyond the emotions of the debate and understand that lasting solutions will need a global perspective and a complete understanding of the forces at play.


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