A New Wave Of Maquiladoras

It isn't quite the giant sucking sound predicted by Ross Perot, but there's little doubt that the impact of the fallen peso on Mexican wages is sparking interest among U.S. companies seeking sites for low-cost manufacturing and assembly operations. Economist Mauro Leos of WEFA Group Inc.'s Mexican forecasting unit, predicts that the maquiladora sector close to the U.S. border will add some 390 plants by 2000--boosting the maquiladora workforce from 579,000 last year to 943,000.

The irony is that proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement claimed that its salutary effects on Mexico's economy and wages would slow the growth of maquiladora operations. Now, however, Mexican manufacturing compensation is expected to be down 31% this year, to a mere $1.80 per hour, and to remain below last year's level until the turn of the century. Thus, stateside complaints about U.S. jobs being shifted south of the border could grow even shriller in the next few years.

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