When images of violent protests began streaming out of Brazil last month, some partisans here in Mexico may have felt a silent temptation to gloat. Certainly no one wants to see people hurt, or property destroyed, in any country. But considering the free ride Brazil received in international media in recent years – while Mexico was flogged like the family mule – a little tarnish on the South American giant’s reputation at least might be worth a dab of schadenfreude. We, however, are not feeling it, and the quicker Brazil recovers the path to peace and prosperity, the better for all concerned.
Mexico has taken a drubbing from China over the past decade in the attraction of foreign investment in manufacturing, maquiladora and otherwise. While Mexico has by no means been abandoned by North American and Asian manufacturers, China became a veritable Klondike for foreign manufactures seeking to lower production costs in the early 2000’s. But a recent story in Reforma reinforces our own anecdotal evidence that Mexico may be in the process of recovering some of the FDI that drank the China Kool-Aid over the past few years.
Throughout the early and mid-‘00s, in the course of participating in export promotion events in the United States, we were struck by the stampede of prospective exporters and manufacturers begging to be led to China. And not just blender manufacturers either – we had little old ladies knitting doilies looking to offshore to Guangzhou to boost margin. While there’s no question that China offered a lot of manufacturers very attractive opportunities for cost reductions, we suspect that some portion of those who went tearing off to China with stars in their eyes looking for “money for nothing” probably wound up with more of the latter than the former. The big attraction, of course, was the low cost of labor.
According to a report by Boston Consulting Group cited by Reforma, in 2002 China’s average daily manufacturing wage was USD0.80, far below Mexico’s comparatively lavish USD3.00 at the time. Double-digit average annual GDP growth since then, however, has helped drive wages steadily upward in China, while manufacturing pay has remained relatively stable in Mexico over the same period. As a result, a gap in labor costs of over 250% between Mexico and China just a few years ago is projected to drop to under 20% in 2010. When factoring in 4:00 a.m. conference calls, frustrating communications and the cost and time of shipping, China may now be losing some of its former luster for manufacturers looking to offshore to serve the North American and South American markets. Mexico would do well to keep a close eye on items such as electricity costs, targeted technical education and other industrial location decision factors in order to take maximum advantage of any opportunities created by China’s unprecedented development surge.