FNS: Chihuahua looks to the East

Frontera NorteSur

The Mexican state of Chihuahua might be in the throes of epic drought and creeping desertification, but environmental adversities aren’t stopping plans for cranking up the pace of agricultural exports. 
Wrapping up a three-nation tour of the Far East last weekend, Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte and other officials unveiled a series of new commercial deals. From China,  Duarte called a pecan sales agreement “unprecedented” in that it side-stepped middlemen and established a direct connection for Chihuahua-grown nuts with Chinese buyers.

David Dajlala Ricarte, Chihuahua state economic undersecretary, said the accord would consolidate his state, especially the region around the south-central city of Jimenez, as one of world’s the major pecan-producing zones. Chihuahua’s U.S. neighbor of New Mexico is also a big pecan supplier of the growing China market.

Agreements for more Chihuahua beef exports were also a gain of the high-level state trade delegation. According to news dispatches, the Japanese company MRT will double the amount of Chihuahua-produced meat that it currently purchases, while another key Japanese firm, food giant Zensho Group, will buy beef products, pecans and other commodities from the northern Mexican border state.

Zensho Group has about 4,000 restaurants. In the United States, the company counts Coco’s, Carrows and El Torito, the Mexican-style restaurant chain established in California back in 1954, as among its brands. With 1,772 stores open 24 hours every day of the year in Japan,  Zensho’s omnipresent Sukiya restaurant chain and its beef bowl specialty mean that a lot of Chihuahua cattle could wind up in stomachs thousands of miles across the ocean.

In South Korea, Chihuahua’s trade mission also explored beefy new possibilities. The peninsular nation is already considered one of the world’s most important export markets for Mexican-raised pork and beef goods. On his trip, Duarte emphasized the high quality of local cattle breeds-Angus, Brangus and Charolais, among others.

Duarte contended that desert-raised cattle are healthier than animals from more humid climates.

“In sanitary terms, there are less diseases in the desert than in tropical zones like Australia, our current competitor in the Orient,” Chihuahua’s chief executive asserted.  “This is the overarching advantage, and the Koreans know and value it.”

In the industrial realm, Duarte revealed that the Chinese company CFMoto intends to open a new factory dedicated to producing motorcycles and recreational vehicles in the old mining town of Parral.

“If we consolidate this plant in Parral, we will be serving a market that includes the potential for exporting to Central and South America, which together with exports to the United States, will give us a bigger anchor,” Duarte said.

He also announced that Chihuahua will buy cameras, facial recognition devices and other high-tech tracking gear from China’s Huawei Technologies. The equipment will give state law enforcement agencies the ability to identify and follow suspects on “any road in the state,” Duarte added.

Chihuahua state lawmaker Hector Ortiz Orpinel, who traveled with the delegation, said the Asian market was a viable one but still required greater coordination among the state government, federal government and private business. Apart from agro exports, Ortiz said electronics and alternative energy were other promising sectors for a closer Chihuahua-Asia bond.

“We visited (Korean) renewable energy companies like Hanwha (SolarOne), and laid out the competitive advantages of Chihuahua with Samsung so that the company invests in our state,” Ortiz said.

Another member of the delegation, Ciudad Juarez water utility head Raul Javalera Leal, told the press that Hanhwa SolarOne is possibly interested in investing in the border city’s wastewater treatment system as well as in solar power generation, which could reduce the high electricity costs currently incurred by the municipal government.

Overall, more than 20 Asian enterprises are now mulling new business outlets in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Chihuahua state, Economy Undersecretary Dajlala said. But it wasn’t immediately clear how many new jobs will be created by the expanding Chihuahua-Asia business connection, or how much new income the agreements are expected to generate for local business people and workers.

The Chihuahua trade tour paralleled requests by Mexico’s federal government to get in on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), a kind of super NAFTA. On March 9,  TPPA negotiators concluded their 11th round of talks in Australia. The founding  members of the proposed pact include the United States, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore.

TPPA boosters in the Obama and Calderon administrations contend the envisioned trade zone will create new business opportunities, but U.S. critics like Public Citizen and Family Farm Defenders charge the deal could replicate the negative features of NAFTA.

Arturo Ortiz Wadygmar, foreign trade specialist with the Economic Research Institute of Mexico’s National Autonomous University, criticized the Calderon administration’s desire to layer TPPA on top of previous trade agreements like NAFTA. Such pacts, Ortiz  argued, benefit only a handful of corporations and not the majority of Mexicans. An export-oriented economic model, Ortiz contended, has left places like Ciudad Juarez vulnerable to unemployment, insecurity and employment abuses.

“The (factory) worker, for example, receives the minimum wage, which in the north is very low, and works more than eight hours in labor conditions that our outside the law,”  Ortiz said.

Chihuahua Governor Duarte, however, judged the Chihuahua trade mission to Asia a smashing success. “The old dream that began more than 10 years ago of opening these markets is now a reality,” he said.

Sources: Nortedigital.com.mx, March 11, 12 and 13, 2012. Articles by Ricardo Espinoza, Francisco Cabrera and editorial staff. El Diario de Juarez, March 12, 2012. Article by Martin Coronado. Commondreams.org, March 12, 2012. Article by John Kinsman. El Heraldo de Chihuahua, March 11, 2012. Lapolaka.com, March 11 and 12, 2012. La Jornada, March 11, 2012. Article by Susana Gonzalez G. Inter Press Service, March 9, 2012. Article by Neena Bhandari.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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