Toxic levels of salt caused infant's death

May 10, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

MEXICALI — In response to the explosive growth of the maquiladora industry here and the 300 percent increase in bi-national trade spurred by the North American Free Trade Agreement, leaders from the United States and Mexico gathered Wednesday at the Hotel Lucerna.

They discussed ways to take advantage of the growth, to make some money and to deal with the inevitable ecological damage that growth brings.

The event was organized by San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus' California Center for Border and Regional Economic Studies and sponsored by the Imperial Valley Economic Development Commission.

The IVEDC staged a similar event last month in Holtville, at which Ernesto Ruffo Appel, border affairs cabinet member in Mexican President Vicente Fox's administration, discussed how the Imperial Valley fits into the Mexican administration's economic plans.


"This meeting was different," said Louis Fuentes, IVEDC executive director. "This time there was a lot more investment information."

He added: "It was great to hear about all of the opportunities and hear a positive, reinforced commitment to binationalism by all involved."

Representatives from BanaMex, a Mexican bank, and First National Bank led off the discussion with respective presentations.

Guillermina Rodriguez Licea, a senior economist at BanaMex, gave an unvarnished critique of the Mexican economy that highlighted concerns but held out hope.

For instance, using charts and graphs, she showed how Mexicali in particular and Baja California in general has taken nearly all textile manufacturing jobs from the U.S.

She explained the shift south has pushed up the number of factories along the border and kept unemployment low, but it has forced a large number of Mexican workers to fill low- paying, low-skills jobs.

This phenomenon has conspired to keep salaries below 1994 levels.

She said Mexico needs higher-skilled jobs and more manufacturing work such as automobile factories or electronics firms.

The representative from First National, Ralph Clumeck, said his bank would finance companies that want to start such industries in Mexico.

Following the bankers, Julia Rauner Guerrero spoke about ways the U.S. Department of Commerce is looking into helping small and medium-size businesses invest in Mexico.

Guerrero, a commercial officer for the DOC, echoed President Bush's pledge to have a completely liberalized trade agreement between all countries in the Western Hemisphere by 2005.

She said the DOC is working on an agreement with Chile similar to NAFTA and is in talks with other countries as well.

She said those agreements will not harm U.S. interests but will allow businesses to "diversify their base of customers, creating jobs through exporting."

Wrapping up the day's discussion, Carlos Murillo, director of the economic development commission in Ruffo's northern border affairs office, outlined the challenges ahead for the U.S. and Mexico.

"We need to provide an economic stimulus to the border region, need to get the projects financed and need to coordinate it all binationally," Murillo said.

"All needs require action. This commission was created to address those needs."

One of the ways he said the commission will stimulate the border is by doing nothing.

"In past administrations the government was oppressive. President Fox has taken a new approach.

"The government has to leave private industry alone. Let it be. We can help create an atmosphere and consolidate the growth of the northern border states, but we cannot overregulate."

Addressing the problem of illegal immigration, Murillo ended his speech by saying the answer is simple.

"We need to give the people that live in Mexico better jobs so they don't leave."

Kimberly Collins, director of CCBRES, said she was heartened to hear the work begun by her center before presidents Bush and Fox were elected will continue.

"I thought the biggest news of the day was the commitment of the new administrations to continue economic development of the border region," Collins said.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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