Migrating to Monterrey

Quick, what is it that Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, International Harvester, John Deere, and K Mart all have in common? These US industrial firms all have facilities in or near Monterrey, Mexico. And because of their presence there, both Mexico and the US stand to profit.

As an economic success story, the growing linkup between the US and Mexico -- at both the industrial and governmental levels -- is remarkable in itself. Mexico is now the third major US trading partner, lodged securely behind Canada and Japan. The increasing collaboration between these two North American neighbors is all the more noteworthy given the fact that only several decades ago there was great antipathy in Mexico to having US firms operate south of the Rio Grande. What is crucial is that this vital linkage be encouraged to develop further.

US firms have found Mexican workers to be hard-working and enterprising, and (not surprisingly) shrewdly attuned to the special requirements of the North American consumer. While some US labor officials have suggested that there is an element of ''disloyalty'' on the part of US companies leaving their traditional factories to relocate south (and thus take advantage of lower Mexican wage rates), economists tend to view such relocation as a fact of life in an interdependent world economy. Firms that have not made such moves have often found their entire industrial base overtaken by industries in lower-wage-scale nations; this has happened to an extent in shoe production, consumer electronics , and television manufacturing. And by locating in nearby Mexico, as opposed to overseas, US firms are able to control transportation costs.

For Mexico, the new plants have meant jobs, thus helping to ease pressures on outward migration to the US. ''Quantity wise, US investment is not that high a percentage (in the overall economy),'' a Mexican business official recently told Monitor correspondent Robert Press. But, he added, the US firms mean an ''influx of technologies, and management skills,'' which help Mexico to be more competitive in the international arena.

Taking note of the Mexican-US business success story is of course not to overlook the many strains still existing between the two nations, such as illegal immigration, fishing disputes, and occasional differences over pricing policies pertaining to Mexican oil and gas deliveries to the US. But the commercial linkup can only help cement together the progress of two neighbors already bound by deep geographical and historical ties.

It is in this sense fitting that when President Reagan chose to make his first trip outside the US early last year it was to Mexico. And then in the summer of 1981 the two nations set up a joint commission to resolve trade disputes.

For both the US and Mexico growing commercial links bode well for the future.

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