Beyond the maquila model? NAFTA and the Mexican apparel industry

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This paper uses a comparative case study approach to explore the inter-organizational dynamics of the Mexican apparel industry's post-NAFTA export dynamism, and assesses the upgrading prospects that this dynamism entails for exporters in Mexico. The results of fieldwork conducted in three apparel-producing clusters in north, central, and southern Mexico are discussed. The key finding to emerge from this commodity chain analysis of linkages between US clients and local producers is that NAFTA-inspired full-package networks provide opportunities for some apparel-manufacturing clusters to upgrade their operations beyond the assembly-export role traditionally associated with Mexico's maquiladora plants. Evidence of industrial upgrading includes expanded employment opportunities in activities such as textile production, the generation of linkages to local suppliers, and improved working conditions in plants producing for brand-name clients. However, the upgrading process is profoundly uneven across the Mexican landscape. The extent to which national firms and workers benefit as a result of their participation in these networks is contingent on the way in which local clusters become incorporated into the apparel commodity chain, and in particular, on the type of governance exercised by the lead firms that control the organization of Mexico's export-oriented apparel industry.