The U.S. keeps pushing Mexico to reopen factories

Even as COVID-19 death soar at factories in Mexico, the United States is sending a clear message: It’s time for plants that have stopped production to get back to work.

The U.S. government has mounted a campaign to persuade Mexico to reopen many factories that were closed because of the country’s social distancing guidelines, warning that the supply chain of the North American free-trade zone could be permanently crippled if factories don’t resume production soon.

“The destruction of the economy is also a health threat,” U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, tweeted last week. “There are risks everywhere, but we don’t all stay at home for fear we are going to get in a car accident.”

Pressure has also come from American CEOs, more than 300 of whom sent a letter to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saying they were “deeply concerned” about the shuttering of factories, and from the U.S. Department of Defense, which has implored Mexico to reopen plants that make parts for defense contractors.

Mexican officials have begun to cave, despite warnings from health authorities here that reopening factories too soon could lead to widespread death.

Federal officials have agreed to allow automotive plants to reopen. And authorities in the border state of Baja California have lifted closure orders on at least 12 factories. Dozens of other plants that were supposed to shut down but never did have escaped serious sanctions from labor officials.

The debate underscores the increasingly global nature of modern manufacturing — materials might cross the border multiple times before a final product is assembled and sold — as well as the often conflicting approaches of governments in the face of the global pandemic.

So-called nonessential businesses have been ordered closed both in Mexico and in the U.S., but the two countries have different definitions of what is considered essential, with Mexico embracing a more restrictive set of criteria.

That has left some factories still humming in the U.S. in need of crucial components because the plants that make them in Mexico have been forced to close.

“For some companies, the border might as well be shut down,” said Paola Avila, vice president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Avila said 390 businesses that her group represents have asked Mexican officials to deem the work of their suppliers in Mexico essential. About a dozen of those factories, most of which provide parts that are exported to the U.S. for use in the manufacture of medical supplies, have been allowed to reopen.

Workers of TECMA, a cross-border plant (
Workers at a factory in Juarez.  (AFP/Getty Images)

But the push has sparked anger in Mexico, especially in large foreign-owned factories along the northern border known as maquiladoras, whose finished products are all for export.

Workers at multiple plants have held protest in recent weeks over a rise in outbreaks and worker deaths.

“They are criminals who are only interested in their capital,” said a worker at a factory owned by Wisconsin-based Regal Beloit that has been closed since employees walked off the job on April 15 after several of their colleagues died.

An April 18 letter from the company to employees confirmed three suspected coronavirus deaths at the Juarez factory. Workers say five others have died since.

“They don’t care about us,” said the worker, who did not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The company, which produces motors for appliances, ignored signs of an outbreak for weeks, he said, and failed to provide even basic protective material such as anti-bacterial gel.

A spokesman for Regal Beloit lamented “the passing of our associates” but said the company does not know if they contracted the disease at its plant.

Other factories where outbreaks occurred are preparing to reopen, including European Schneider Electric, a factory in Tijuana where at least three people have died, according to Baja California government officials.

Source: LA Times