Giant Sucking Sound Rises in the East

Ten years after NAFTA, Mexican jobs move to China

| March / April 2003


ROSS PEROT?S famous 1993 prediction that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would trigger a ?giant sucking sound? as U.S. companies closed factories and moved their jobs south of the border turned out to be right?at least for manufacturing jobs.. NAFTA made border maquiladora zones too good to resist. U.S. companies could not only exploit Mexico?s lower wages and lax environmental and labor standards, but also send goods back without an import duty.

Now, that giant sucking sound is back. Only this time it?s the sound of Mexican jobs moving east?to the Far East, reports Saul Landau in The Progressive (Sept. 2002). ?Over the last 18 months, some 250,000 factory workers have lost their jobs,? writes Landau. ?Ironically, some of the very factories that moved from the United States to Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s now find the same compelling reasons?lower wages and regulations?to shift operations to Asia.? An entry-level machine operator in Juarez makes about eight dollars a day, while the same job in a Chinese factory fetches around two dollars. And in China, even more than in Mexico, there are no pesky unions to worry about.

Still, sociologist Victor Quintana of Chihuahua says losing the maquilas (from the Spanish verb maquilar, to do another?s task) is not such a bad thing. The free-trade model ?launch[ed] a cultural offensive against the majority of the world?s poor,? he says. The maquilas entice peasants by the millions out of their traditional rural communities with the promise of employment and into the industrial centers, only to discard them when the factory owners no longer find them useful. And now, as unemployment climbs in border cities like Juarez, Matamoros, and Tijuana, so do crime, pollution, and a host of health problems.